Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Secrets

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Chapter 3

And I could only stand by, helpless and mute, the cause of it all. The keeper of a secret so terrible it made me afraid to speak, scared that it would pour out of me like kerosene, burning everyone. (3.8)

In this instance, the secret of how her mother died is heavy and dangerous—she would give anything to let it out without hurting anyone, but doesn't feel that she can.

My hands shake in my lap. I could tell him. I could tell him what I've kept locked tight inside. (3.42)

Gemma longs to confide in her brother, but he is a jerk, and since he doesn't really care about her, she keeps it inside instead.

Chapter 10

"[…] I think we're going to be great friends, Gemma."

"Would we still be friends if I didn't hold a secret over your head?" I ask.

"Don't friends always share secrets?" (10.68-70)

Do they? Should they? What about Gemma's question?

Mary Dowd's diary sits quietly inside my cape, her secrets weighing the pocket down against my thigh. (10.3)

Where better to find secrets than in a diary, right? And this is the best kept, super detailed diary ever written. Gemma and the gang learn loads from reading it.

Chapter 13

Pippa actually embraces me. We're alive with our new secret, with the way we belong to each other and to something other than the dull passing of hours…(13.49)

It seems that sometimes secrets can uplift and tighten bonds of friendship because they make a small group of people an exclusive club. Secrets can bind people together.

Chapter 15
Gemma Doyle

"No more doing that," I say. "Promise me?" […]

"Gemma?" she says after a moment has passed.


"You won't tell, will you?"


More secrets. How did I end up keeping so many? (15.142-151)

In this book, secrets can be pretty heavy—like Ann's secret (cutting herself) that Gemma discovers by accident. In order to keep her friendship alive, and build trust with Ann, she promises not to tell. We wonder if she wanted to? Do you think it would help Ann in this situation?

"I'll start. O great spirits of the Order. We are your daughters. Speak to us now. Tell us your secrets." (15.75)

In this circumstance, secrets mean skills, teaching, and magical practice. Sometimes secrets aren't forbidden information riddled with mistakes and fear, but good things like knowledge and experience to pass on.

Chapter 16

"Your mother died of cholera. That wasn't your doing."

The truth has been bottled up inside me for so long that it comes pouring out, spilling everywhere. "No, she didn't She was murdered. […]

My sobs are great gasping hiccups. (16.104-106)

When Gemma shares this secret with her teacher, slowly becoming her friend, she feels such intense relief that she can only bawl.

Chapter 18

Kartik's tongue slips between my lips for a second, jarring me. […] I can't look at anyone, especially not Felicity and Ann. What must they think of me now? What would they think of me if they knew how much I'd enjoyed it? (18.31)

Keeping how she really feels a secret here is a way Gemma protects herself from the judgment and ridicule she thinks she would get if her friends knew the truth. But it also keeps the illusion going of women as weak and victims, which is not something Gemma really believes.

Chapter 35

"Are you still cross about Miss Moore?"

"Among other things." I'm cross that we let her down so terribly. I'm cross that my mother is a liar and a murderer. That my father is an addict. That Kartik despises me. That everything I touch seems to go wrong. (35.12-13)

Because Gemma keeps all her feelings and worries inside, her friends don't understand what is going on with her and have to guess (guessing wrong of course). If Gemma would only tell them the truth, they could help support her instead of being suspicious of her.

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