Donna Tartt

Major WorksDonna Tartt


  • The Goldfinch (2013) (Pulitzer Prize 2014)
  • The Little Friend (2002)
  • The Secret History (New York: Knopf, 1992)

Short Stories

  •  “A Garter Snake.” GQ 65.5 (May 1995): 89+.
  • “A Christmas Pageant.” Harper’s287.1723 (December 1993): 45+.

Nonfiction Articles

  • “Sleepytown: A Southern Gothic Childhood, with Codeine.” Harper’s  286 (July 1992): 60-66.
  • “Basketball Season.” In The Best American Sports Writing, 1993, edited and with an introduction by Frank Deford. Houghton Mifflin,  1993.
  • “Team spirit: Memories of Being a Freshman Cheerleader for the  Basketball Team.” Harper’s 288 (April 1994): 37-40.

Return to Top

Donna Tartt: A Biography

by Laura Anderson (SHS) Updated

Born in 1963 in Greenwood, Mississippi, Donna Louise Tartt  spent her childhood growing up on the edge of the Delta.  She is the oldest of two daughters born to Don and Taylor Tartt. Tartt is  said to have cultivated an early love for literature. By the young age of five, Tartt had written her first poem (Kaplan, 1).

The Little Friend by Donna TarttAfter high school in 1981, Tartt  entered the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  Willie Morris noticed one of her stories and told her, “I think you are a genius.”  Donna Tartt was then accepted into Barry Hannah’s graduate short story course.  After her freshmen year,  Tartt transferred to Bennington College in Vermont to study the classics. She then started to work on her first novel The Secret History.  Knopf publishers bought her novel, and it was published on January 3, 1993 (Penguin, 1).  Film rights to The Secret History were sold to Warner Bros, but a film version has not yet been released.

Tartt’s second novel The Little Friend also got rave reviews.  Written ten years after The Secret History, it was published in 2002.

Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch, published in 2013 by Little, Brown,  won the 2014The goldfinch by Donna Tartt Pulitzer Prize for fiction. According to the Los Angeles Times, the judges in their citation described The Goldfinch as a “beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.”

All three of Tartt’s books are mysteries, and according to many sources,  she herself is somewhat of a mystery, preferring to live a private life despite her success as a writer. In 2015, Tartt is fifty-one years old. Her books have each taken about ten years to write, and The Goldfinch seems to have been strongly influenced by Dickens, one of Tartt’s favorite childhood writers. The novel is set in Alexandria, Mississippi, where a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. The murder is still unsolved twelve years later, and his family remains devastated. Robin’s sister Harriet sets out to find his killer. Helped by her friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and learns more about her family’s history of loss.

Return to Top


A Review of The Secret History

by Laura Anderson (SHS)

Laura Anderson, SHS Researcher

Laura Anderson, SHS Researcher

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a mystery novel that focuses on the study of classical and modern art (Daphne’s, 1).  This novel is based on six students who are majoring in ancient Greek at Hampden College in Vermont (Yee, 1).  Henry, Francis, Charles, and Camilla hold a ritual in hopes of meeting Dionysus, the Greek God of wine.  During this ritual, they lose control of their bodies and commit unpremeditated murder.  Richard, a new member in the group, finds out about the murder and decides  to keep their secret.  Later, when Bunny (another member in their close-knit group) finds out,  he is  also murdered.  Bunny was a greedy, unreliable character who could not be trusted.  Therefore, he created his own demise.

The Secret History by Donna TarttWhen the book begins, the characters are a close group of friends, but after the murder “their friendships start to disintegrate” (Hajari, 126). According to Hajari, “These students shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least, but had a strange cold breath of the ancient world” (Hajari, 126).  In a review of the book Shaprio and Sawhill state, “She (Tartt) adorns them with quirks, but none has a personality” (128).  These reviewers were talking about the characters in The Secret History, whom  I thought were developed well  enough.  Tartt gave the reader a sense of who each person is and how much it would take for him to commit murder.  These two critics also said, “Tartt’s amateur device of keeping them (the characters) constantly drunk or on drugs gets tedious fast.”  I also felt that Tartt overused the students’  regression into alcohol and drug use.  Many paragraphs continually speak of the students getting up to get a drink or passing out on the couch.  Nevertheless, I can imagine these characters doing this, and Tartt’s descriptions of drunkenness give this novel an enormous amount of truthfulness and verisimilitude.

I think for Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles and Richard, Bunny’s murder is a way for them to get rid of their own problems and worries.  Bunny is their ultimate scapegoat.  However, Bunny’s murder only brings them more fear.  It might have temporarily taken care of their problem; but in the end, it created more horror for the group than they could have ever imagined.  Allen states, “The rest of this book involves the ramifications of the crimes, the group’s remorse, and in the end the group’s ultimate breakup” (Allen, 132).

Two critics have seemingly opposite opinions of The Secret History.  Fosburgh says, “The book is beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.  I could not put it down” (127).  Another critic says, “It was meant to be a tale of golden youth tarnished, of privilege and intellect run amok.  The Secret History is instead 544 pages of low-wattage Crime and Punishment.  Sadly, it is the reader who does the time” (Kaufman 132).  I would not say the book was full of low-wattage material.  I also could not say I thought it was suspenseful from start to finish.  The first hundred pages could not keep my attention, and I often laid the book down.  Though after I read some more of the book,  it grasped my interest.  The only complaint I have about the book is that it focuses too much on the students’  drinking and not enough on developing the plot.  The other thing that bothered me was the sexual orgy that took place during the ritual (Kaplan, 126).  I decided to leave this part out of my paper because I did not think it held that much importance.  I would not recommend this novel for a young student because of what happens during the ritual.

Fosburgh says, “It hung about me in an unsettled way” (127).  I personally have also found myself thinking about the book and about how some of the students’ situations are similar to some of my own.  Most people know a character like Bunny.  You might have a relative or friend who is greedy, self-absorbed, and obnoxious, but could we ever bring ourselves to murder?

Return to Top

Related Websites

Return to Top


  • Daphne’s reviews.
  • Entertainment Weekly. alt.culture.
  • Kaplan, James. The Secret History.
  • Longman., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism . Vol 76. White Plains, N.Y., 1986.
  • Mississippi Writers Page: Donna Tartt (1963-  ).
  • Penguin.
  • Shirley, Aleda, et al., eds.”Donna Tartt.” Mississippi Writers: Directory and Literary Guide. University Press, The University of Mississippi, 1995: 68.
  • Showbiz. Secret movie
  • Tartt, Donna.  The Secret History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.
  • Yee. review of Secret.
  • The Best American sports writing, 1993,  edited and with an introduction by Frank Deford. Houghton Mifflin.

Return to Top