Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day

By Deborah Cohen
Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day



A book about what families - Victorian and modern - try to hide, and why. Both a story of family secrets and of how they were revealed, it journeys from the frontier of empire, where British adventurers made secrets that haunted their descendants for generations, to the confessional vanguard of modern-day genealogy two centuries later.

Year of Publication


A well-researched, timely and absorbing book, it challenges many of our prejudices about how our immediate ancestors thought, and invites us to enquire more closely into how and when and why families keep secrets and guard their privacy. -- Hilary Mantel A 'book of marvels'. What marks out Family Secrets as an important book is not so much its breadth as its depth ... the result is a clear sighted investigation into what our forebears felt was private, and what they kept secret. -- Kathryn Hughes Guardian Scrupulous research with cool analysis and a humane intelligence Financial Times Fascinating reading The Scotsman A fact-packed and fascinating history of secret-keeping Evening Standard Cohen is a formidable researcher, and she narrates the stories she has uncovered with infectious delight. A find -- Judith Flanders Sunday Telegraph An excellent and illuminating book... [It is] in the fastidious detail that her book comes alive -- Salley Vickers Observer The history of secrets and their relation to the family turns out to be far more complex and vastly more interesting than might be imagined. Family Secrets is thought-provoking, well-written and remorselessly intelligent... an important book The Spectator A stylishly written, multilayered, broad-sweep book ... essential reading for students on history, sociology and social policy courses ... at a time when family "breakdown" is a matter of public concern, this book casts an illuminating light on a complex issue Times Higher Ed (Book of the Week) A riveting study of secrecy and shame Daily Mail A rich and rewarding study. Cohen is an accomplished scholar and reconstructs the lives she uncovers in the archives with empathy and imagination Literary Review A riveting book that is both a history of aspects of British culture that are swept under the carpet and a meditation on the relationship between secrecy and privacy -- Joanna Bourke BBC History Magazine Everyone who reads this lucid book - a memorable sentence on every page - will understand their world more clearly History Today An impressive piece of history Independent Deborah Cohen opens up the role of the family ... raising new questions and perspectives in this mysterious, important area of history Times Literary Supplement A thoughtful critique of privacy ... blows apart our patronising attitude towards the Victorian family -- Jane Ridley Spectator Rigorous and relevant TLS 'Books of the Year' Pries open the most astounding archives to uncover what our recent ancestors tried to hide Sunday Times 'Books of the Year'

Author Biography

Born into a family with its own fair share of secrets, Deborah Cohen was raised in Kentucky and educated at Harvard and Berkeley.She teaches at Northwestern University, where she holds the Peter B. Ritzma Professorship of the Humanities.Her last book was the award-winning Household Gods, a history of the British love-affair with the home.