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Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  120 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
We live today in a culture of full disclosure, where tell-all memoirs top the best-seller lists, transparency is lauded, and privacy seems imperiled. But how did we get here?
Exploring scores of previously sealed records, Family Secrets offers a sweeping account of how shame--and the relationship between secrecy and openness--has changed over the last two centuries in Brit
Hardcover, 372 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2013)
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Apr 29, 2015 E.B. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc-giveaway, 2013
A Goodreads Giveaway Book
Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain
by Deborah Cohen

"About families and their secrets, much can be known, but much more is silence" (Cohen's Epilogue).

Hidden children. Secret paramours. A runaway adulteress. Non-fiction with all the intrigue of a novel, Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain is a fascinating and enticing read. From scandal in the Victorian Divorce Courts to heartbreaking tales of children kept secret from the world, their fami
Britt, Book Habitue
May 18, 2013 Britt, Book Habitue rated it it was amazing
(Copy received for review)

Possibly the most fascinating and compelling work of nonfiction I have read. Combining history and psychology, this is definitely a most interesting read.
Jun 12, 2014 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read
Shelves: historical
Described to me as "white bourgeois British families' attitudes towards biracial, illegitimate/adopted, divorced, disabled, and homosexual relatives during the nineteenth century."
Lynnee Argabright
I enjoyed the first four chapters and was disappointed throughout the remaining three chapters. The book had some really interesting topics in it regarding family secrets, shame, and privacy in Victorian and Modern England, such as empire, divorce, mental institutions, adoption, and homosexuality. However, as in the last two chapters (Part Three), I was disappointed that these topics turned into a general purview of the shape of the family in modern England. As an American reading this book, ...more
Jamie Bernthal
May 02, 2013 Jamie Bernthal rated it really liked it
In this important and fascinating volume, Deborah Cohen takes us through the (hi)story of family secrets from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Meticulously researched, Cohen introduces us to newspaper reports, letters, government surveys, and TV reviews, to support her argument that the family has been a cultural lynchpin for the last two centuries.

There are essentially three parts.

First, Cohen deals with 'Victorians', by which she seems to mean the long nineteenth century. Secrets, C
Cleo Bannister
Aug 17, 2013 Cleo Bannister rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I read this book against the backdrop of my adult daughter and her close friend trawling through Facebook to find out whether a rumour they'd heard about a school friend was true or not - it wasn't, but it certainly leant weight to Deborah Cohen's affirmation that there is a difference between privacy and secrecy. As an amateur genealogist I have delved into the papers of the late 19th century and wondered how some of those whose actions were written about continued to live in their tight-knit ...more
Oct 11, 2016 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Doesn't so much present an argument as give a descriptive summary of societal attitudes to shame, secrecy and privacy and the shifts in these over time, using several real-life examples to illustrate changes between generations. Looks at the way families and societies addressed embarrassing or potentially ruinous secrets like illegitimate, biracial or mentally handicapped children, adultery, divorce, adoption and homosexuality. Interesting and unexpected revelations in some cases--like the shift ...more
Nov 02, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting, history
An engaging and incredibly timely work of social history, tracing changing conceptions of privacy and secrecy in British families from the late 18th to the early 21st centuries. Viewing these abstract notions through the lens of various topics - mixed-race children, divorce, developmentally delayed children, illegitimate birth, homosexuality - Cohen shows how dramatically things we now see as "basic rights" have shifted over the generations.

For example, "Skeletons, the Victorians recognized, we
Corrie Ann
Jul 04, 2016 Corrie Ann rated it it was amazing
An utterly fascinating and well researched look at privacy and shame in modern Britain. The topics covered include race, divorce/adultery, illegitimacy/adoption, the mentally disabled, and homosexuality, all in relation to shame and privacy within both the family and society. Cohen moves through Victorian times into the Edwardian Era, the interwar years and then into what we would consider 'modern' times (post WWII). She also covers how the definition of privacy changes after WWII with the onset ...more
Aug 03, 2016 Wanda rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain

Author Deborah Cohen takes us on a journey through family circumstances that were held as taboo in Britain’s not too distant history (19th & 20th centuries); Mistresses; Illegitimate children; Shocking marital problems; Mongol children; Adopting other’s illegitimate children; And the homosexual in the family. In British history’s upper and upper middle class these things were hidden away and hushed up. I think I felt sorrier for the kids tha
Vanessa Meachen
Feb 24, 2014 Vanessa Meachen rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read - detailed, thoughtful, and beautifully illustrated with real examples from archives and primary sources. Explores the prevailing attitudes of families to "secrets" like illegitimacy, physical and intellectual disability, divorce and family breakdown, homosexuality and mixed-race children and how attitudes have changed - or not - from Victorian times to the present day. I found some of the examples here surprising and nearly all of them moving.
Sep 12, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book, which was more anecdotal and personal than the last part. Sometimes the process of discovery can be more interesting than what is actually discovered. The last one-third of the book was rather drier, and more like a sociology text - it seemed to lack the vitality of the first part of the book, Still, I found it worth reading, and it is very well researched.
Jane Walker
May 11, 2013 Jane Walker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day" is the sub-title. But we get little on the Victorians, and not a lot about shame. There is some fascinating stuff here, based on impeccable research, but it doesn't entirely hang together. The epilogue on the current fashion for family history misses the mark. Altogether, the book left me a little disappointed.
Kazimiera pendrey
some of the topics within this book are very shocking some of the things that the general public do not like to face .Although interesting the writing style and indeed the chapters wera bit long winded still worth a read
May 30, 2016 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-school, history
Read for my historians craft seminar. Very interesting history of family secrets from the Victorian age to circa 1980. It was fascinating to read about how the secrecy of certain things changed over time--oftentimes in ways one wouldn't have expected.
Jun 08, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
"Only by refusing the ‘self-oppression’ of silence could a person live authentically and honestly."

- Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain.
Nov 11, 2014 Alyson rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. See for why!
Oct 09, 2013 Penny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: victorians
I enjoyed this but maybe not quite as much as I thought I would.
Interesting idea for a book, and well done although I thought some chapters were much more interesting than others.
Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez
Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez rated it it was amazing
Oct 11, 2016
Helen rated it it was ok
Oct 11, 2016
Martha rated it really liked it
Mar 08, 2016
Helen Andrews
Helen Andrews rated it it was amazing
Oct 31, 2013
Goran Remborg
Goran Remborg rated it liked it
Apr 02, 2015
Alexandra rated it really liked it
Oct 11, 2016
Heidi rated it it was amazing
Feb 11, 2013
Ian Gee
Ian Gee rated it really liked it
Oct 11, 2016
Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez
Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez rated it it was amazing
Oct 11, 2016
Wendy rated it it was ok
Jun 25, 2015
Laura rated it really liked it
Jun 07, 2016
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Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Deborah Cohen was educated at Harvard (BA) and Berkeley (Ph.D.). She is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. Her speciality is modern European history, with a focus on Britain.
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