Literary Wardrobe: 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.”

So opens Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. A narrative of intrigue, deception, darkness, and beauty. Every autumn – when the mornings are darker, the trees are dying, and I’m adding a layer of wool – I find myself in hibernation with this novel. There is no other way to read it, as it draws me in with it’s beauty and terror. And every time I read it, I am more deeply in love with it.

Almost as much as I love reading, I love clothes. I spend hours browsing online and in stores. I love beautiful fabrics, classic cuts, and soft dark colours, and I’ve always found what I am reading is reflected in what I wear. New Zealand designer Kate Sylvester created a collection of beautiful clothing titled the ‘Tartt Collection’; the haunting characters and tropes have been manifested in garments: youth, intelligence, sex, death, secrets, and above all, beauty.  These beautiful silks, wools, and linens seem to have been hiding within the novel the whole time.

There is a recurrent scene from those dinners that surfaces again and again, like an obsessive undercurrent in a dream. Julian, at the head of the long table, rises to his feet and lifts his wineglass. “Live forever,” he says. And the rest of us rise too, and clink our glasses across the table, like an army regiment crossing sabres: Henry and Bunny, Charles and Francis, Camilla and I. “Live forever,” we chorus, throwing our glasses back in unison. And always, always that same toast. Live forever.”

“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.”

If you haven’t read the book, you must. Pick it up, open to the first page, and hibernate.

“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.”

See the whole collection here.

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