family secretsDeborah Cohen’s relentlessly compelling book Family Secrets unravels a complex and tangled history of how privacy, secrecy, and shame colluded and collided in the making of modern British family life. The book raises provocative issues about class and power, about intimacy and autonomy, and about the dynamics of today’s confessional culture, where secrets are viewed as inherently destructive and transparency is equated with freedom. In this roundtable, Matt Houlbrook, Sarah Igo, Claire Langhamer, and David Vincent reflect on the reverberations of Cohen’s story.

Marybeth Hamilton

Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain by Deborah Cohen
Published 24 April 2013. 400 Pages. 39 illustrations. ISBN: 9780199977802

One Comment

  1. Terry Mccarthy

    There are family secrets and open secrets in the post-war period, all the kids know which of them had a GI for a father but we all know it was more than our lives were worth to discuss this with any adult. One of the common family secrets in the post-war period was to invent a disease when a child such as myself contracted TB lunacy and contagious diseases were to be kept close guarded family secrets. My grandmother was a well-known black marketeer organiser, although this was never discussed with any member of the family when children were present, despite the fact my Nan known as the Duchess had me running around London before the age of 10, with dodgy ration books. Grandparents in the 50s often kept from the fact that they’d never bothered to marry (living over the broom was quite common, though you had to be careful because if the authorities knew you couldn’t get a council house or flat. I found that nobody in my extended family wanted to talk about their anti-sequence or the poverty, especially where housing was concerned, no one ever talked about living in slum, although this was quite common in dock lands before the Second World War. When it came to secrets. My family certainly had its share, I had to tell my half sister when she went to Queen Mary College. Then in fact, I wasn’t her uncle. I was a half brother. This is why, as an historian, I often take tapings of people with a pinch of salt,

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