The Secret History

The Secret History Study Guide

The Secret History is Donna Tartt's first novel; it was published in 1992, when Tartt was 29 years old. Like the protagonist Richard, Tartt had transferred to a small elite college in New England (Bennington College) after beginning her studies elsewhere. Tartt graduated from Bennington in 1986; her classmates included the notable authors Brett Easton Ellis and Jonathan Lethem. Tartt worked on the novel during her time at Bennington, and a number of classmates and individuals associated with the college have argued that there are parallels to her time there. Brett Easton Ellis published his first novel, Less Than Zero, in 1985, while he was still a student at Bennington. The success of his novel gave him connections in the literary world, and he leveraged some of those connections to help his friend Tartt. Ellis worked with the well-known literary agent Amanda "Binky" Urban. Urban negotiated to have The Secret History published at Knopf. Knopf predicted the novel would be very successful, paying Tartt a substantial advance and ordering a print run that far exceeded the number of copies usually printed for a novel by a first author.

The Secret History received significant critical praise, and since it was the first novel by a young author, many critics predicted that Tartt would go on to have a very significant career. The novel also sold extremely well, spending 13 weeks on the Publishers' Weekly bestsellers list, and eventually reaching number two on the list. Despite the praise and success of The Secret History, Tartt did not publish another novel until The Little Friend in 2002, followed by another decade-long gap before publishing her third novel, The Goldfinch, in 2013.

There has been strong interest in a film or television adaptation of The Secret History but none have ever been made. In 1992, the film rights were purchased by Warner Brothers' producer Alan Pakula. However, Pakula died suddenly in 1998 before production began, and the project was shelved indefinitely. In 2002, the publication of Tartt's second novel renewed interest in a film adaptation, with a proposed Miramax project involving Gwyneth and Jake Paltrow. However, after the sudden death of their father, the siblings dropped the project and the film rights eventually reverted to Tartt. Tartt was reportedly unhappy with the 2019 film adaptation of The Goldfinch and has not pursued any adaptations of The Secret History.