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Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain by Deborah Cohen

By Deborah Cohen

We are living this day in a tradition of complete disclosure, the place tell-all memoirs best the best-seller lists, transparency is lauded, and privateness turns out imperiled. yet how did we get the following?

Exploring ratings of formerly sealed documents, Family secrets and techniques offers a sweeping account of ways shame--and the connection among secrecy and openness--has replaced during the last centuries in Britain. Deborah Cohen makes use of specific sketches of person households because the foundation for evaluating different types of social stigma. She takes readers within an Edinburgh city condominium, the place a genteel maiden frets together with her brother over their niece's downy top lip, a darkening shadow that will betray the girl's Eurasian history; to a Liverpool railway platform, the place a heartbroken mom arms over her eight-year previous illegitimate son for adoption; to a city within the Cotswolds, the place a queer vicar brings to his financial institution vault a diary--sewed up in calico, wrapped in parchment--that chronicles his sexual longings. Cohen explores what households some time past selected to maintain mystery and why. She excavates the tangled historical past of privateness and secrecy to provide an explanation for why privateness is now seen as a hallowed correct whereas secrets and techniques are condemned as destructive.

In delving into the dynamics of disgrace and guilt, Family Secrets explores the half that households, so usually considered as the brokers of repression, have performed within the transformation of social mores from the Victorian period to the current day. Written with compassion and prepared perception, this can be a daring new argument concerning the sea-changes that happened in the back of closed doorways.

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If either did not survive to collect, the other would take the entire sum. In 1786, the two fathers embarked for England with their incognito offspring in tow, Margaret Bruce traveling as Margaret Stewart and William Denby Jr. 10 Their secrets were tenuous at best, but their tontine, as it turned out, was a safe bet: in 1804, it would pay out £2000, a small fortune. Seventeen years before, when Robert Bruce went off to India, he had no fortune and litt le prospect of ever gaining one. The Bruces of Earlshall were an old Scott ish family.

It took another seventeen years for the Lord Justices of Appeal to rule that Cochrane’s open-ended promise in his marriage settlement letter—“nor will that be all; she is and shall be noticed in my will”—did not encompass the original lakh of rupees or anything else. ”128 Twenty-five years into the litigation, with litt le to show for her efforts, Susan changed course. She had always assumed that she was Cochrane’s “natural” daughter, a bastard. Cochrane himself certainly thought so. But T h e N a b o b ’s S e c r e t s 41 that was because neither had recognized the legal implications of that long-ago ceremony when Peter Cochrane and Raheim Bibi celebrated their nikah.

After a few years at home, Will, unlike his cousin Frank, began to make quiet concessions to British decorum. He married Harriet Pope in a discreet ceremony, legitimizing his last three sons without exposing the lesser status of his earlier brood. Although he treated all of his boys equally for purposes of inheritance, Will nonetheless drew distinctions between them. Harriet’s two oldest sons, both illegitimate, were sent away to India as young men, Francis as a servant of the Company and Richard as an army officer.

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