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.
After reading this book I looked at some of the divorce records for the early 1900’s which largely demonstrate Deborah Cohen’s theory that it wasn’t something either a man or woman would go through without real cause. Random records I looked at described an awful way of life for both sexes with divorce being the only way they could extract themselves from lifelong misery.
- Victorian Values: What’s The Obsession? (katiestransition.wordpress.com)