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Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain (Book) Review

 
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At a Glance...
 

Page Count: 372
 
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Year Published:
 
Final Score
 
 
 
 
 
4.5/ 5


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Uses real life experiences through the ages to illustrate the change in family dynamics and the keeping of secrets.

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One hundred pages of references makes for accuracy, but also makes it a shorter read than expected.


Final Fiendish Findings?

“…a book about how shame was lived; about the terrors and also the failures of moral regulation, about families that chastised and concealed, about the resonance of interactions played out behind locked doors.”

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Posted April 22, 2013 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

“…a book about how shame was lived; about the terrors and also the failures of moral regulation, about families that chastised and concealed, about the resonance of interactions played out behind locked doors.”
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Deborah Cohen’s Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain is a masterful volume that seeks to uncover the secrets of family, but first must define what we consider to be secret in the first place. Things that are mostly recognized as commonplace were once sources of great shame and embarrassment, and family units went to great lengths to keep the burden of a less than ideal relative a secret.

Each chapter in Family Secrets examines a type of secret, and how it was dealt with throughout various generations, both within families and by the government. While adopting a child is an accepted and even acclaimed practice now, it once was both shameful and illegal, causing many adoptive families to hide the fact from those closest to them, especially the adoptive child. Hand in hand with adoption was the matter of illegitimate children (as they were often adopted out, it was assumed that an adopted child had been the product of illegitimacy, and thus carried that stain). From women who were cast out from their families for their indiscretion, to modern women who denounced the expectation that they must marry in order to bear children, bearing a child out of wedlock is a family secret that has, like many others, evolved into something that is rarely even remarked upon.

By conducting a years-long study of previously sealed records, Deborah Cohen has used history itself to illustrate the ever changing definitions of secrecy, privacy, and what it means to be part of a family. In doing so, she provides a wonderful backdrop with which to examine the readers’ own family histories, and the inevitable skeletons in our own ancestral closets using the storie3s of real families to illustrate how being different caused issues not only to an individual, but also within their extended families. Children with mental illness were kept at home and cherished in Victorian times, but just one generation later were often shipped off to institutions for life, while the families they were born into carried on their lives as if they had never been born.

The evolution of family secrets is presented in a fascinating way, often encompassing entire lifetimes, as various individuals come to terms with things like their own homosexuality, yet continue to struggles with their family’s refusal to accept or acknowledge what they are. Even the evolution of the government is examined with respects to family secrets, as the practices of divorce, birth certificates, and more influences how families carry out their day to day lives. Family Secrets is an unprecedented look inside family life, past and present, and constant use of the experiences of real people, in their own words, makes it extremely relatable. It is a truly fascinating peek inside the evolution of family.


Amy

 
U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)