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The Secret History The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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The Secret History Quotes (showing 1-30 of 330)
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
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
“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
“It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, "more like deer than human being." To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. 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
“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
“But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’
Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“It is is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially.”
Donna Tartt, 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
“One likes to think there's something in it, that old platitude amor vincit omnia. 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
“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
“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
“In short: I felt my existence was tainted, in some subtle but essential way.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Once, over dinner, Henry was quite startled to learn from me than men had walked on the moon. “No,” he said, putting down his fork.
“It’s true,” chorused the rest, who had somehow managed to pick this up along the way.
“I don’t believe it.”
“I saw it,” said Bunny. “It was on television.”
“How did they get there? When did this happen?"
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Anything is grand if it's done on a large enough scale.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Love doesn't conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Any action, in the fullness of time, sinks to nothingness.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Death is the mother of beauty,” said Henry. “And what is beauty?” “Terror.”
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
“Why does that obstinate little voice in our heads torment us so? 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? 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 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, don’t you think?”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“All those layers of silence upon silence.”
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 easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!”
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
“Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“What are the dead, anyway, but waves and energy? Light shining from a dead star?

That, by the way, is a phrase of Julian's. I remember it from a lecture of his on the Iliad, when Patroklos appears to Achilles in a dream. There is a very moving passage where Achilles overjoyed at the sight of the apparition – tries to throw his arms around the ghost of his old friend, and it vanishes. The dead appear to us in dreams, said Julian, because that's the only way they can make us see them; what we see is only a projection, beamed from a great distance, light shining at us from a dead star…

Which reminds me, by the way, of a dream I had a couple of weeks ago.

I found myself in a strange deserted city – an old city, like London – underpopulated by war or disease. It was night; the streets were dark, bombed-out, abandoned. For a long time, I wandered aimlessly – past ruined parks, blasted statuary, vacant lots overgrown with weeds and collapsed apartment houses with rusted girders poking out of their sides like ribs. But here and there, interspersed among the desolate shells of the heavy old public buildings, I began to see new buildings, too, which were connected by futuristic walkways lit from beneath. Long, cool perspectives of modern architecture, rising phosphorescent and eerie from the rubble.

I went inside one of these new buildings. It was like a laboratory, maybe, or a museum. My footsteps echoed on the tile floors.There was a cluster of men, all smoking pipes, gathered around an exhibit in a glass case that gleamed in the dim light and lit their faces ghoulishly from below.

I drew nearer. In the case was a machine revolving slowly on a turntable, a machine with metal parts that slid in and out and collapsed in upon themselves to form new images. An Inca temple… click click click… the Pyramids… the Parthenon.

History passing beneath my very eyes, changing every moment.

'I thought I'd find you here,' said a voice at my elbow.

It was Henry. His gaze was steady and impassive in the dim light. Above his ear, beneath the wire stem of his spectacles, I could just make out the powder burn and the dark hole in his right temple.

I was glad to see him, though not exactly surprised. 'You know,' I said to him, 'everybody is saying that you're dead.'

He stared down at the machine. The Colosseum… click click click… the Pantheon. 'I'm not dead,' he said. 'I'm only having a bit of trouble with my passport.'

'What?'

He cleared his throat. 'My movements are restricted,' he said.

'I no longer have the ability to travel as freely as I would like.'

Hagia Sophia. St. Mark's, in Venice. 'What is this place?' I asked him.

'That information is classified, I'm afraid.'

1 looked around curiously. It seemed that I was the only visitor.

'Is it open to the public?' I said.

'Not generally, no.'

I looked at him. There was so much I wanted to ask him, so much I wanted to say; but somehow I knew there wasn't time and even if there was, that it was all, somehow, beside the point.

'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.'

St. Basil's, in Moscow. Chartres. Salisbury and Amiens. He glanced at his watch.

'I hope you'll excuse me,' he said, 'but I'm late for an appointment.'

He turned from me and walked away. I watched his back receding down the long, gleaming hall.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“It's funny, but thinking back on it now, I realize that this particular point in time, as I stood there blinking in the deserted hall, was the one point at which I might have chosen to do something very much different from what I actually did. But of course I didn't see this crucial moment for what it actually was; I suppose we never do. Instead, I only yawned, and shook myself from the momentary daze that had come upon me, and went on my way down the stairs.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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