Family Secrets: The Rise of Confessional Culture in Britain, 1840-1990


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Newberry Library during academic year 2009-2010


This book examines the interplay between families and secrecy over the course of a century and a half in which both the definition of a family and the rules about what could be discussed openly were rewritten in Britain. It makes two main arguments. First, there is no straightforward story of progressive, enlightened de-closeting; different family secrets had different trajectories, some moving towards disclosure even as others tended towards greater concealment. Second, families did not simply enforce social norms. Rather, they played a crucial role in arbitrating and even creating them. Because the closely-guarded skeletons in one era's closet hardly provoked comment in another, an investigation of family secrets makes possible an overarching history of social stigma in Britain.