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"And lo! Apollo Could Not Live Without Dionysus" A Nietzschean Study of the Apollonian and Dionysian in Donna Tartt's The Secret History


  • Jessica Kafa

Summary, in English

Previous research on Donna Tartt’s debut novel The Secret History in regards to its intertextual relevance has helped in understanding the traditional campus novel, as well as redefined the classical murder mystery. However, little research has been made on its characters and its portrayal of the human experience. Additionally, plenty of research has been made into Nietzsche’s philosophical work The Birth of Tragedy, and its importance to the field of philosophy as a whole. Despite this, not much work has been put into applying these theories on modern literature. In this essay, I have used Nietzsche’s theories of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles in an exploration into two of the characters' psychological tendencies as a way to examine how the theories can be applied onto literary characters. I argue that each character jumps from displaying one principle, to the other, without ever achieving a balance between them. It is this lack of balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, within the two characters, that ultimately lead to their psychological undoing. To explore this topic, I have conducted a close character study, looking primarily at the actions of the characters, and their attitudes towards each other and the situations that they find themselves in. Ultimately, this essay has found that an application of Nietzsche’s theories is indeed relevant for Tartt’s novel, and that there seems to be a dissonance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in the characters.

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Donna Tartt
  • The Secret History
  • Nietzsche
  • Apollonian
  • Dionysian


  • Kiki Lindell