37 Profound The Secret History Quotes by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a thriller, crime novel that was groundbreaking when it was published in 1992. 

The story is an inverted detective story, in which a student is murdered at the beginning of the story and then the rest of the story goes back in time leading up to the event. 

This style of writing was new at the time, but has become more popular in recent years with books like The Guest List and One Of Us Is Lying being acclaimed titles written in this style.

The Secret History is possibly what inspired One Of Us Is Lying, as it follows six college students as they navigate their way through a school year at Hampden College, in which their friend, Edmund ‘Bunny’ Corcoran is murdered.

The novel explores themes of social isolation, and the obsession with beauty and makes references to Ancient Greece. The writing style, as well as being innovative, is poetic and elegant.

In fact, there are many The Secret History quotes that make you think differently about the world we live in today.

If you’re looking for some thought-provoking quotes from The Secret History, then you’re going to love these…


The Secret History Quotes About Isolation

One of the major themes of The Secret History is isolation. Here are some quotes from The Secret History that explore this theme…

“After all, the appeal to stop being yourself, even for a little while, is very great.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“There are such things as ghosts. People everywhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did. Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our individual souls- which, after all, we are too afraid to surrender but yet make us feel more miserable than any other thing? But isn’t it also pain that often makes us most aware of self? It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow old, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them, don’t you think?”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“I liked the idea of living in a city — any city, especially a strange one — liked the thought of traffic and crowds, of working in a bookstore, waiting tables in a coffee shop, who knew what kind of solitary life I might slip into? Meals alone, walking the dogs in the evenings; and nobody knowing who I was.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“But if I’ve learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular platitude is a lie. Love doesn’t conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things – naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror – are too terrible to really grasp ever at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself – quite to one’s surprise – in an entirely different world.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow, unhesitating, relentless. It is not a quality of intelligence that one encounters frequently these days. But though I can digress with the best of them, I am nothing in my soul if not obsessive.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“She looked up at me, her eyes large with compassion, with understanding of the solitude and incivility of grief.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Are you happy here?” I said at last.
He considered this for a moment. “Not particularly,” he said. “But you’re not very happy where you are, either.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Profound The Secret History Quotes

Are you looking for something profound and thought-provoking? Then you might like the following The Secret History quotes…

“If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from all the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow older, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them…”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“But one mustn’t underestimate the primal appeal—to lose one’s self, lose it utterly. And in losing it be born to the principle of continuous life, outside the prison of mortality and time.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“I suppose there is a certain crucial interval in everyone’s life when character is fixed forever.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Sometimes, when there’s been an accident and reality is too sudden and strange to comprehend, the surreal will take over. Action slows to a dreamlike glide, frame by frame; the motion of a hand, a sentence spoken, fills an eternity.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channeling the primitive impulses he’s worked so hard to subdue.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“It does not do to be frightened of things about which you know nothing,” he said. “You are like children. Afraid of the dark.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

The Secret History Quotes About Beauty

There are many quotes in The Secret History about beauty and the obsession with looking good. Here are some of my favorites…

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” 

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Any action, in the fullness of time, sinks to nothingness.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?”
“To live,” said Camilla. “To live forever,”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“You amaze me,” he said. “You think nothing exists if you can’t see it.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“We don’t like to admit it, but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. All truly civilized people – the ancients no less than us – have civilized themselves through the wilful repression of the old, animal self.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Death is the mother of beauty,” said Henry. “And what is beauty?”
“Terror.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Short The Secret History Quotes

Sometimes you only need to say a few words to have a big impact. Here are some short quotes from The Secret History…

“Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“All those layers of silence upon silence.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Not quite what one expected, but once it happened one realized it couldn’t be any other way.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“And the nights, bigger than imagining: black and gusty and enormous, disordered and wild with stars.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“They understand not only evil, it seemed, but the extravagance of tricks with which evil presents itself as good.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Anything is grand if it’s done on a large enough scale.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“I suppose the shock of recognition is one of the nastiest shocks of all.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“It is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“In short: I felt my existence was tainted, in some subtle but essential way.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“Yet my longing for her was like a bad cold that had hung on for years despite my conviction that I was sure to get over it at any moment.”

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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Final Word on The Secret History Quotes

So there you have it, those are our favorite quotes from The Secret History by Donna Tartt and as you can see, there are some really powerful and thought-provoking words in this book.

It’s one of our favorite books of all time, and it’s easy to see why with such beautiful prose.

Do you have a favorite quote from The Secret History? Let us know in the comments.

About Louisa

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the founder, editor, and head honcho of Epic Book Society. Once a published poet at the age of 7, she aspired to become a journalist, but that career hit a wall so here she is writing about books instead. When she's not writing about books, she's teaching English to primary school kids around the world.

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