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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Name and shame
I read this book avidly. Perhaps only an American academic could have been objective about the topic of British society and secrets, and how especially interesting it is in the age of Leveson. There is inevitably a considerable amount of repetition, and occasional undergraduate essay-style conclusions to early chapters where preceding information is rehashed and which...
Published 17 months ago by K. Golding

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chequered family history
It is surely a feat of research to have been able to bring to light so many long-hidden family stories. Not only were these intended to remain secret, but the lives of ordinary people are rarely the object of the kind of record-keeping official acts attract. Deborah Cohen seems to have been able to force her way into hitherto close archives, such as the collected...
Published 13 months ago by reader 451


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Name and shame, 23 Feb 2013
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K. Golding - See all my reviews
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I read this book avidly. Perhaps only an American academic could have been objective about the topic of British society and secrets, and how especially interesting it is in the age of Leveson. There is inevitably a considerable amount of repetition, and occasional undergraduate essay-style conclusions to early chapters where preceding information is rehashed and which feels like padding, but Cohen has done a formidable amount of research - there are nearly a hundred pages of references and bibliography. She lucidly explains how Britain evolved from a society which kept secrets to protect family members to one obsessed with reality tv and misery memoirs - one in which mentally ill family members would be hidden away to one in which every celebrity wants to proclaim their bipolar state. My father's secret situation - born illegitimately, brought up believing his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his aunt until he was 18, at which point he ran away to sea and became an alcoholic, renouncing his mother so that I was unaware I had two living grandmothers - was apparently by no means unusual, and Deborah Cohen's careful unpicking of the social factors which created this sort of family saga, and others involving idiocy, homosexuality, etc., is fascinating, as is her analysis of our journey from secrecy to privacy - she describes her book succinctly at one point: 'It puts thousands of hidden-away familial encounters alongside the public-turning-points of protest movements and new laws to argue for the significance of an intimate history of why social mores changed'. And indeed, the various protest movements of the 60s, the emergence of R. D. Laing and the new ideas about parents being not beyond reproach but responsible for each new generation's misery, did much to change laws and attitudes. What is unclear, and everyone will have their own opinion on this, is whether the changes we thought so liberating at the time were not, but merely a different sort of prison for the self. A thought-provoking book which will make you look at your parents, and theirs, and your children, and wonder what you could all have done differently - and better, and make you wonder whether what the neighbours or facebook 'friends' think will always more important than the family...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family Secrets in changing times, 31 Mar 2013
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C. Bannister (Jersey, CI) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
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 communities with little opportunity of escaping their past misdemeanours, but of course they just had to, particularly if they were poor.

The subjects of this book tend to be the middle-classes, those who had the money and the means to hide their secrets or at least have some measure of control over how much of their secrets were exposed. The book starts in the late 18th century detailing the ways that men who had relations with women in India integrated their sons and daughters into society. Deborah Cohen then moves through the decades detailing those secrets that were important to their times; divorce, mental disabilities, adoption and homosexuality alongside careful explanation of popular views of the times, laws and the importance to the family that these were either kept secret or not.

The last section deals with the views of RD Laing and how his views helped to change society's view of the family to the re-drawing of boundaries about what today is viewed to be privacy and an individual's right to keep secrets which is not the same as the requirement to keep the family secrets.

This is a fascinating and accessible way of presenting social history, well researched using some previously closed records it is well written has enlightened me about each of the areas covered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 8 Mar 2014
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I enjoyed reading this book and it has come in very useful for research purposes. One of those books one can just keep dipping into
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide ranging, 23 Dec 2013
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Mr. John F. Marcham (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
An easy read with lots of interesting tit-bits of information. Outlines much sadness and prejudice in the past and one wonders just how much there is today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, 22 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
This is a very interesting study on how social attitudes have changed over the centuries to such things as illegitimacy, divorce, adoption, disabilities, homosexuality etc. An enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent review of social history of divorce, mental illness, homosexuality, 17 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
this is an interesting read which gives the reader a really good perspective on how we got to where we are in regards to divorce, mental illness, homosexuality conduct in society. It explains a good deal about why certain things looked the way they did when I was a child. A great read and really enjoyable and useful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chequered family history, 2 Jun 2013
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reader 451 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
It is surely a feat of research to have been able to bring to light so many long-hidden family stories. Not only were these intended to remain secret, but the lives of ordinary people are rarely the object of the kind of record-keeping official acts attract. Deborah Cohen seems to have been able to force her way into hitherto close archives, such as the collected correspondence of the Normansfield institution for mentally handicapped children. Diaries, divorce court records, letters salvaged from attics somewhere form the rest of her sources, alongside press clippings and more conventional sociological literature. Family Secrets also has merit for the sheer curiosity, the prurient interest it manages to invoke. Ranging from the life stories of the mixed-race children of India Company officers to scandalous divorce cases of the late Victorian era, and to the hidden and illegal adoptions almost openly mediated by such institutions as the Mission of Hope in the 1920s, the book makes for good reading. The chapter on Normansfield and mentally handicapped children is particularly poignant. And the chapter on bachelor uncles, gay men concealing their sexual orientation, is the only one perhaps lacking in originality.

The problem with Family Secrets, however, has to do with its consistency as a cultural history book. The topics discussed change alongside the chronological framework, so that one type of family secret is never comparable to the next. It seems Cohen's wider point is that family privacy was respected under the Victorians because they had a strong sense of shame. This created a space for deviance from the norm, and could help people live with difference - in accepting a half-Indian sibling, for example, or providing at home for a mentally handicapped child. Notions of privacy changed in the course of the twentieth century to permit for the airing of secrets, privacy shifting to mean the right to live one's life as one chooses - e.g. the right to be gay - the price however being the loss of secrecy. But this argument is never spelled out, nor is how it articulates over time entirely clear. This makes of a disjointed work which, while it includes many fascinating chapters, can be hard to follow as a book - thus my perhaps stingy three-star rating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched book, 22 April 2013
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This book is well researched and very informative. The section on learning disability makes a very good contribution to a neglected area of research. The section on adoption is also sensitively written and I learnt a great deal re the history of the topic. I thoroughly enjoyed the book,learnt a great deal and the style is very engaging. Would thoroughly recommmend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent slice of social history, 20 July 2013
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This book is a fantastic illustration of how social attitudes to issues such as illegitimacy, adoption, divorce, disability and homosexuality have changed since the Victorian era. It's meticulously researched stories made me rethink some of my assumptions about how people in the past thought about those who were 'different' in some way. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every one as some thing to hide, 27 May 2013
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This review is from: Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Hardcover)
Great reseach work by Deborah Cohen not much differant to today but the media was not as big and wide spread as today
so A lot was kept under cover if you like a bit of intregue fully recommend it
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