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This lecture is based on Jane Robinson’s new book, In the Family Way, about the experience of illegitimacy from the Great War to the Swinging Sixties. Only a generation or two ago, illegitimacy was one of the most shameful things that could happen in a family. Illegitimate children and their mothers were hidden away as guilty secrets, punished by society and denied their place in the family tree.
Today, ‘illegitimacy’ no longer exists in law; babies’ parents are as likely to be unmarried as married. This revolution makes it easy to forget what it was really like to give birth, or be born, out of wedlock before the Permissive Age. By speaking to those involved, many of whom have never felt able to talk about their experiences before, Jane reveals a story not only of secrets and appalling prejudice, but about discoveries, triumphs, and the every-day strength of the human spirit.
There are sorrowful episodes in this history, but it’s about hope, too: about supportive families who defied social expectations by welcoming ‘love children’ home, or those who were parted and reconciled. Most of all, In the Family Way is about finally telling the truth.
Jane Robinson was brought up near Easingwold, North Yorkshire, where she went to school before reading English at Somerville College, Oxford. In the Family Way is her ninth book, and like her previous work, including Bluestockings and A Force to be Reckoned With, it confirms her as one of our most engaging and original social historians. Jane lives near Oxford with her husband and two sons.
Find out more about Jane Robinson, her biography and books on her website.