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The Secret History - Characters - Henry Winter

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HENRY (m) "home ruler" from the Germanic name Heinrich, which was composed of the elements heim "home" and ric "power, ruler". This name was introduced into Britain by the Normans. It was borne eight kings of England including the infamous Henry VIII, as well as six kings of France and seven kings of Germany. Other famous bearers include arctic naval explorer Henry Hudson, novelist Henry James, and automobile manufacturer Henry Ford.

Favorite Excerpts

Two of the boys wore glasses, curiously enough the same kind: tiny, old fashioned, with round steel rims. The larger of the two - and he was quite large, well over six feet - was dark-haired, with a square jaw and coarse, pale skin. He might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. He wore dark English suits and carried an umbrella (a bizarre sight in Hampden) and he walked stiffly through the throngs of hippies an beatniks and preppies and punks with the self-conscious formality of an old ballerina, surprising in one so large as he. "Henry Winter," said my friends when I pointed him out, at a distance, making a wide circle to avoid a group of bongo players on the lawn.

Henry, too, was said to be wealthy; what's more, he was a linguistic genius. He spoke a number of languages, ancient and modern, and had published a translation of Anacreon, with commentary, when he was only eighteen.

Henry's a perfectionist, I mean, really-really kind of inhuman -- very brilliant, very erratic and enigmatic. He's a stiff, cold person, Machiavellian, ascetic and he's made himself what he is by sheer strength of will. His aspiration is to be this Platonic creature of pure rationality and that's why he's attracted to the Classics, and particularly to the Greeks -- all those high, cold ideas of beauty and perfection. I think it's what in the end that gets him into trouble.

- Donna Tartt, on the character, Henry Winter


Henry is one of my favourite characters in the whole of literature!!! Few writers can create a character who is so incredibly charismatic (and obsessively intriguing). I find Henry's belief in what life should ideally be like - miles from civilization, freeways and telephone lines studying the 12 great cultures - immensely appealing. It's his darkness and complexity that makes him so magnetic to readers, but I don't think he's evil. Of course, it's his idea to have the bacchanal that causes all the problems, and masterminds the murder of Bunny, but I find it difficult to believe he is genuinely evil.
- Donatella

5:42 am, thursday, may 4, 2006
I must say I really loved this character, too bad there aren't more people like him around here...

"After another moment's silence, she mumbled that I was peculiar, that that was probably why she loved me but that one day I might disgust her for the very same reason"
Albert Camus

11:59 am, wednesday, april 26, 2006
Henry is the most charismatic character I've ever come across when reading a book. I love and hate, fear and respect him all in the same time.
- Berta

1:44 pm, sunday, april 23, 2006
I loved Henry.

- mel

4:13 pm, friday, march 24, 2006
Henry is brilliant, rich, and completely lacking in feeling for anyone else. He is damaged and he is a psychopath. In the book he is the person ultimately behind every awful event -- and his odd but compelling charisma allows the others to always go along. Remember: he dismisses the first killing with a few sentences, and it impacts him no more than if he'd accidentally killed an ant.
- iadler97 - A T -

7:02 pm, friday, february 10, 2006
This character is based on Paul McGloin who was Donnas best friend or boyfriend at Bennington.

- mart!n

8:15 am, tuesday, october 25, 2005
Henry was my favorite character. I can't even describe it. He's very intelligent, and is just an amazing character that you can be fascinated with until after you finish the book. He's a man that you can't understand, and that what makes him appealing.

- Mitchester

8:12 pm, monday, october 10, 2005
I like Henry, as chill as he is, and as distant. He, after all, is the one who rescues Richard from his Winter break ordeal. And yes, I have known people like him, although perhaps not quite as strong physically.
- Don Riggs

2:06 pm, saturday, august 13, 2005
It was Henry who started the kult-ritual, he killed the farmer, it was his fault bunny found out and he killed bunny and himself. All because of his selfishness and his sexual longing for camilla. Henry is pure evil in disguise.
- peter

7:58 am, sunday, july 31, 2005
I never thought that someone so distant, so gifted and pensive could, in the end, be such a believer. Today we are used to our intellectuals being cynics and disbelievers-quicker to discount something unexplained then to entertain it.
Henry, who was taught by a divinity and ran the woods with a god, believed enough that death was no great sacrifice for him. He believed, he killed, he loved and he didn't apologise for any of it.
Henry Winter is perfect.
- sybaryte

3:42 pm, tuesday, july 19, 2005
Henry is indeed perfectly evil, and more dangerously so because we are drawn under his spell, along with Richard, and find it so hard to resist loving him despite the fact that he is so selfish and manipulative. From start to finish he manipulates Richard, who even when he realises this, still loves him, just as the reader does. This is very frightening power - fascistic power, the charisma of a leader who can commit acts of terrible cruelty and have his loyal followers still believe he is beyond good and evil, still command their devotion. The more you read the book, the more you see how cleverly Tartt disguises his manipulations, how cleverly she encourages us to fall in love with him. A masterly, chilling portrayal.
- sarah s

7:58 am, monday, july 18, 2005
Henry is one of the best characters I've ever met. He is also amonst the most real ones and I would definitely want him as a friend. It's been less then 24 hours since I've finished the book and I already miss him (and the others).
- Ereinion

5:43 am, saturday, july 16, 2005
I loved Henry the most. I never thought that I could fall in love with a person from a book. He is in my mind every day.

- gitte

5:58 am, saturday, november 27, 2004
In the vivid, Maciavellian, and beautifully round character of Henry, Donna Tartt created not just a masterpiece of literature, but a figure who almost manages to transend the gap between imagination and reality. Probably he is the deepest, most corrupting but lovable, and well-drawn character in all of American fiction. In greater analysis, Henry gives Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Joyce's awsome Bloom a run for their money as literature's most complex creation. As to the question of who should play him in a screen adaptation, one's first reaction is that the subject is academic, because the book would be wasted on screen. Yet other intricate books like Puzo's The Godfather and even Joyce's Ulysses, where the interior monologues are presented as voice overs, have been well translated. The key problem with filming Tartt's novel, however, is the vast amount of time spent when the characters are reading and spending time moralising - both of which are anathama to hedonistic Hollywood. Second, the fact that Henry is such a liguistic genius limits profoundly the actors who could play him - we are, after all, reminded that 'one can spend one's whole life learning Ancient Greek and yet still not be able to pronounce a word.' Third, if we asume that a way is found around the language barrier, no actor who is young today, possesses the necessary charisma and intelligence to play Henry. Only Marlon Brando in his prime, in addition to perhaps Robert de Niro an Al Pacino, could have had a decent stab at it. These factors being so, leave the novel without an adaptation. And allow Henry to brood and beat against the paper and ink and covers that bind him, and he can live in the minds of those who troubled to read his agoinising story.

- Ian

3:59 am, thursday, september 23, 2004
I always found it difficult to view Henry as evil which is what is so clever about the way Donna Tartt writes him - through Richard's eyes. Henry is able to make the others believe in him and appears calm and very level headed throughout his machiavellian plans.

- Helen

3:58 pm, friday, august 27, 2004
Henry exists. That is a terrifying fact of life.

- William

11:26 am, sunday, august 15, 2004
Henry was my favourite character in the book. Honestly, I literally fell in love with him and now I think the world of Henry. Perfectly male, perfectly out of the blue, Henry undoubtedly has something of undefined charm.

- Patricia

2:00 am, friday, june 18, 2004
I love Henry - so enigmatic!

I still wonder what he said to Camilla at the end...
- Tracy

5:09 am, monday, june 14, 2004
Henry Winter is one of the most obscure characters in contemporary fiction; the male Mona Lisa of contemporary novels if you wish. The more closely you look at him the more elusive he becomes. He comes from nowhere and is going nowhere. He is Nietzsche's dream. Beyond Good and Evil. A pure endeavour to transcend one's cultural milieu, of defying consciousness and guilt. He has made life into an art-form descending to the darkest depths of the human psyche. He is bigger-than-life, he defies life and life will not forgive him the transgression. He must, eventually, pay the price.
Eccleston looks too old for the part and no make-up or other artificial means can remedy that. Jude Law would be a good choice, but he is too much of a "pretty boy" (strangely, I think he would make a good Francis Abernathy). Though not a Hollywood fan, I think that Matt Damon and Joaqin Phoenix should be the top choices with Paul Walker as an also-run. Matt Damon has also relevant experience in the form of his Ripley part. They can exude the mystery and unclassifiable charm that brings Henry to center stage and have some of his coolness and arrogance, so vividly suggested in the novel. And we have to keep in mind that the novel itself gives a very accurate and detailed description of Henry, as opposed to Papen, for example, whose physical characteristics are not described in any substantial detail. This description should not, under any circumstances be ignored or distorted in the film version. Henry is heavy, about 6 ft "and might have been handsome, had his features been less set." We know that Bunny is 190 lb, at least (since this is written in his disappearance notice), but then former athleteslook leaner in most people's eyes. Henry is 25 lb heavier than Bunny so we should think Henry is about 215-225 lb. Henry's size is not 'an extra', but an essential part of his formidable personality. Even Dr. Roland refers to him as "great, big boy" So one would need an actor who is convincing about his physical strength, (Henry after all is able to break people's ribs and collarbones if he is provoked), can get his weight to 220 lb without looking fat (do remember that people in films tend to look slightly leaner), is very comfortable in dark English suits and can fake a good limp and play the part of an arrogant young intellectual. Hence my choices.
- justus lipsius

9:04 am, monday, may 31, 2004
It's awful to fall in love with a fiction character from a book, but I have!

- Isolde

2:15 pm, saturday, april 17, 2004
Henry intruiged me and yet I understood his motivations.

- S

9:35 am, sunday, february 15, 2004
He was not interesting; he was true.
A clean slate, unscratched and untouched by any influence but a genuine one.
- Arman

5:31 pm, thursday, november 27, 2003
Henry was the most interesting character, i think other readers have overlooked him. He was in a way, supernatural and very powerfull.

- stephanie

9:45 am, sunday, november 9, 2003
Henry Winter is by far the most interesting character in a novel filled with good characters. Henry is my favourite character and somehow I cannot see him as 'evil', yet I cannot explain exactly why not. Overall I feel that Henry cannot be evil because he is doing what he thinks is right and honourable, although perhaps this is incorrect since he seems to live in his own world outside normal standards and morals. See, I cannot explain Henry at all. However, I do know that I truly love this character and my favourite parts of this novel are sections that involve him.
Also, am I the only one who does not really want to see this novel turned into a film? I am scared that Hollywood will destroy the story we all love.

- Sunshine

6:16 am, tuesday, october 28, 2003
Henry is problably the most important character serving the plot's motiv3, structure and intelligence in The Secret Story. Because of his old-fashioned style, his cynical and noble acts concerning academic issues, his cold and distant presence.
- peerdulyver - A T -

7:58 am, friday, october 24, 2003
i like his tranquility and his boldness to do things that are not typical for a student to do.

- obs

3:13 am, saturday, august 16, 2003
henry lived too much in his world and too much in the past. he is a fascinating character indeed, but if you had somebody in your class or group of friends that was just like him, you would definitely consider him a weirdo. i don't think you could ever really relate and fall in love with someone that doesn't know what happened in the world in the last couple of centuries, not to speak of someone that is so passionately engrossed in greek and dead languages. he is very fascinating and magnetic, both to his friends and to the reader, but at the end of the day this is just fiction...

5:24 am, sunday, august 3, 2003
I have found Henry fascinating and compelling - especially on first reading, and despite re-reading retains an air of mystery - something that can't be defined. He is calculating and manipulative but doesn't lose the fascination of first acquaintance
- cem

6:21 pm, friday, july 25, 2003
I think Henry was the most interesting character of all. We really saw his soft side at the end when he kissed Camilla and told her he loved her.

- lwmyers - A T -

5:20 pm, monday, july 14, 2003
Having read these comments, i could not agree more than with Anna, Henry was, as per the title, the Keeper of the Secret History.

- Timm

11:28 pm, saturday, july 5, 2003
Of all the characters, Henry was the easiest to visualise and the one I disliked most. He was ascetic, staid and arrogant. He was the mastermind and the murders would not have happened if not for him. If Julian was the sun, he was the earth and the other characters were the many moons.
- Cheryl

5:00 pm, sunday, may 18, 2003
I couldn't adore Henry more. The most interesting character.

8:58 am, sunday, march 23, 2003
Henry scares me. I don't know what to think of him. Who is he??? Is he really the genius that has planned everything in detail, like Richard thinks in the end? Or is he just some clever but nice guy, that is taken away by the action like everybody else?
rike *is very confused*
- Rike

1:42 pm, sunday, february 16, 2003
Henry was a sociopath. Of that I am certain. With this disorder comes a social brilliance and charm which are used solely to the individual's own advantage. Henry had a powerful hold over the other characters, and a powerful effect on readers, as well. When I read Secret History the second time, Henry lost his mystique. He is polite, charming, completely self serving, and without empathy or guilt throughout. People listen to Henry when they shouldn't. Henry is Ted Bundy with a brain.
- Judy

9:15 pm, friday, january 24, 2003
I think perhaps Henry is the only character who I have ever felt so close to...alike even...and that feeling is both comforting...and terrifying...
- Raven

4:20 pm, saturday, january 18, 2003
I completely fell in love with Henry. I thought he was a jerk at first, but as the story progressed, I fell deeper and deeper under his spell. His character continues to haunt me...
- Cherisse

9:02 pm, thursday, january 16, 2003
Hasn't anyone got the feeling that Henry and Julian are but one person gifted with ubiquity?

4:45 pm, friday, december 27, 2002
Everything Henry did was for his own benefit. He comes across as cold, manipulative, and incredibly selfish. I hate the way he feels about people in general, as if they were all pawns to be used. Feel a spiteful glee when Julian (whom he worshiped) betrayed him in the end.
- Yulia

9:23 pm, thursday, december 19, 2002
Henry was what, deep inside, we all wish to be. Perhaps the perfect being? Practical. Resourceful. Intelligent, and despite what some might say.....faithful to the task at hand, which was, to survive.

5:23 am, wednesday, december 11, 2002
Henry's embrace is warm and enveloping, and he radiates an essence of goodness and decency from his every part. Everyone's brother and father, Henry is a guide, a sage and nurturing spirit. His sacrifices and courage only cause my love for him to deepen. I would give my life for him as I know he would for me.

7:04 pm, wednesday, december 4, 2002
Henry is neither good nor evil. He himself would probably have eschewed such notions of good and evil, anyway. He doesn't transcend them; he merely exists outside of them.
- Sarah Jane

3:46 pm, sunday, december 1, 2002
I always wonder what he said in Camillia's ear? He is the type of man you can know for a lifetime and never know anything about him

- anon

12:43 am, thursday, november 21, 2002
Henry has been a dear friend, that I have revisited often. As I pass further on in years, it saddens me that he remains too youthful, static, and mired by his past. He is my dark mirror. A face I once wore. Those who say he is evil have a point, but I think they miss the soul of one of the most thoughtful portrayals in literature. Whomever this character was based on, Ms Tartt must have loved him greatly.

A great love can be a terrible thing.
- chris

12:20 am, saturday, november 2, 2002
He is an illustration of near-perfect evil.

10:32 am, tuesday, june 25, 2002
he was from the beginning up to the end a secret!!!
- Anna

12:41 am, sunday, june 16, 2002
henry is the only character, in any book that i have ever read, whom i have actually fallen in love with. he is perfect.
- rain

8:12 pm, monday, november 5, 2001
Henry is one cold, calculatingly manipulative individual. I think he, in The Secret History, is thoroughly misunderstood.
- sean

2:20 am, saturday, september 29, 2001
Henry is the only person who almost reaches godness.
- mcarrasc

12:44 am, tuesday, may 14, 2002
henry has been my best friend for years. i've been looking all over to find a person to impersonate him perfectly... i hope scott finds him....
- christina

3:06 pm, monday, may 13, 2002
marry me henry

Henry is my favourite character in the book and in general. He's very enigmatic and is one of the most intruiging characters I've ever read. He does a lot of ridiculous things, but with an air of serious clinicalness that makes him both hysterical and slightly scary. The way he manipulates those around him took me a few reads to catch onto. His character arc of losing self-control and the search of liberation from his mind was also something that greatly interested me. He's very sick and depraved, but keeps it hidden behind a disguise of a dilligent and standoffish student, or perhaps co-exists with it. - Mason

A complex character; towards the end he seems to be troubled with his own mortality, and the fact his entire fantasy world is falling apart. Perhaps this is why he decides to end it himself while still being in charge of his own demise. It isn't as perfect as he wishes though, with him staying in a coma for half a day afterwards.