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Family Secrets : Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain



Pub. Date:
Oxford University Press, USA
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In an Edinburgh town house, a genteel maiden lady frets with her brother over their neice's downy upper lip. Woud the darkening shadow betray the girl's Eurasian heritage? On a Liverppol railway platform, a heartbroken mother hands over her eight-year old illegitimate son for adoption; she had dressed him carefully that morning in a sailor suit and cap. In a town in the Cotswolds, a queer vicar brings to his bank vault a diary - sewed up in calico, wrapped in parchment - that chronicles his sexual longings and his father's views on the subject. This is a book about what families hid in the past and why. Drawing upon scores of previously sealed records, it offers a sweeping account of hwo shame has changed over the last two centuries. Both a history of secrets and of how they were revealed, it journeys from the frontier of empire, where British adventures made secrets that haunted their descendants for generations, to the wood-panelled chambers of the Divorce Court, where a family's disgrace was dissected for public view. It explores personal, apparently idiosyncratic decisions: hiding an adopted daughter's origins, taking a disabled son to a garden party, talking ceaselessly (or not at all) about a homosexual uncle. In delving into the familial dynamics of shame and guilt,Family Secretsinvestigates the part that families, so often regarded as the agents of repression, have played in the transformation of social mores from teh Victorian era to the present day.

Author Biography

Deborah Cohen is Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is the author of Household Gods: The British and their Possessions and The War Come Home: Disabled Ex-Servicemen in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939.

Table of Contents


Part I: Telling Secrets
1. Teh Nabob's Secrets
2. Revelation in the Divorce Court

Part II: Shame and Guilt, Nature and Nurture
3. Children Who Disappeared
4. Other People's Bastards
5. Bachelor Uncles

Part III: Secret No More?
6. Talking it Out
7. The Repressive Family

Epilogue: Genealogy and Confessional Culture

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