The Hidden Child
by Louise Fein
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Pub Date 02 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 02 Sep 2021
London, 1929. Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the Eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.
When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, their world fractures as they have to face the uncomfortable truth – Mabel has epilepsy: one of the 'undesirable' conditions that Edward campaigns against.
Forced to hide the truth so as not to jeopardise Edward's life work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.
Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?
'Shocking, emotive, and compelling, but ultimately a story of hope. I loved it' Deborah Carr, bestselling author of The Poppy Field
'A poignant rendering of love and motherhood, human frailty and redemption, exquisitely told against the backdrop of the unthinkable ... Fein deftly takes the reader back to a terrifying turning point in history and, with grace and compassion, reminds us of the importance of standing up for what we believe in our souls to be true' Judithe Little, bestselling author of The Chanel Sisters
'The Hidden Child is the thought-provoking and compelling tale of one family and the battle to survive their daughter's illness. A reminder that ordinary people can so often be responsible for some of the most shocking episodes in history' Louise Hare, bestselling author of This Lovely City
'An astonishing story about an aspect of British history that's long been swept under the carpet – surprising, moving and poignant' Frances Quinn, bestselling author of The Smallest Man
Average rating from 57 members
The Hidden Child by Louise Fein is a poignant Historical fiction novel. The author’s experiences while raising a child with epilepsy are the inspiration behind this story.
Though it’s a fictional piece, at the heart of the story is the eugenics movement which propagated selective breeding by eliminating undesirable genetic traits among humans. Edward, one of the staunch advocates of this movement, his wife Eleanor and daughter Mabel are the central characters in this though-provoking read.
Edward is involved in researching on eugenics, and is about to present his findings to the Eugenics Society. But things turn topsy-turvy when 4-year-old Mabel is diagnosed with epilepsy. To protect his social standing and honor, he takes some drastic steps to ensure the debilitating disease remains a secret. Eleanor, though initially supports the eugenics movement, Mabel’s condition and a few chance discoveries force her to think otherwise and lead to a change in her actions. Edward’s shameful secrets from the past continue to torment him, until the day he comes clean to the world, and Eleanor.
As much as the subject is thought provoking and disturbing, it is the impeccable narration which spoke to me tremendously. Fein’s writing skills are exemplary. Her vocabulary and style are impressive; especially in the way she has paid attention to details and has woven intricate and unforgettable characters amidst realistic settings. The story is set in the late 1920s, and I was transported to the distant era with an ease. This is what I need the most from any historical fiction – the feeling of being in the story.
Fein describes with utmost honesty the lives of the rich, poor and diseased. She details the demeaning and appalling attitudes of the elite towards the people affected with disorders.
Apart from the settings, it is the characters themselves which made this novel a memorable read. Although there are many people involved in the story, it doesn’t get confusing. They all have their distinct personality and place in the story. Eleanor’s character changes impressively. The way she metamorphoses into a strong woman, a confident wife and mother is inspiring and emotional. Edward, though stubborn at first, realizes his folly and undergoes a transformation himself.
And lastly, it is the positive and satisfying ending which made me quite happy.
The Hidden Child is a well-researched and well-written novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I received an ARC from NetGalley and Head of Zeus in exchange for my honest review.
4.5 stars rounded to 5.
A very thought provoking book and I learnt a lot . That doesn't mean the book was hard going or stuffy, in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set in the 1920s/30s the book deals with the difficult subject of epilepsy and the attitudes of the time which were just horrific. I, for one, am now much better informed about the fact that the UK had a strong Eugenics movement at that time, taken to extreme by Nazi Germany. Despite the seriousness behind the book the story itself is, on the whole, about a quite normal family and easy reading. I am glad I am better informed about a darker side of history which has obviously been .kept quiet.
The Hidden Child by Louise Fein is an excellent, thought-provoking historical fiction novel that is truly engrossing and that kept me interested from beginning to end.
I really enjoyed Ms. Fein's previous novel, Daughter of the Reich, so I was excited to be able to read this book as well. This is a darker, more serious read then a lot of the current WWII era fiction that is present at this time. It is however very important that the subject of eugenics and what was attempted in the past continue to be remembered for the morality of the human race in general for the future.
I have read quite a bit on the subject of eugenics and "selection" in reference to the mindset, proclamations, rules, and atrocities that were pushed and broadcasted from the Nazi propaganda machine in the 1920s-1940s. The fact that the ideals became so widespread is just astounding looking back at it now. The author takes this aspect of history and creates a personal narrative incorporating this.
The story of Mabel, Eleanor, and Edward Hamilton and their specific situation in England was hard to read, but yet fascinating at the same time. What Edward had "believed" in and had supported was really shattered when it then was at direct odds with the illness of his child and what was at one time impersonal and politics, then became really, really personal. The inner and outer struggles that occurred within Eleanor and Edward individually, between each other, and in respect to Edward's political and societal statements were fundamentally at odds. I enjoyed how at least in this case the uplifting and satisfying ending. Unfortunately for a lot of families across many lands, this did not end in such an upbeat way.
Thank you NG and Head of Zeus for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.
I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication.
I received an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review
This book is deeper than her last, dark even, but still quite enjoyable. It’s not easy to learn about the history behind this and how close we as a society came to pseudo-Nazism, It was very painful as a mother. But I’m glad I stuck it out because it was very satisfactory.
Eleanor Hamilton has everything to be happy and she is. Married to a handsome and influential man, who adores her and is eager to make her happy and not lack anything. And Mabel, her four-year-old daughter with a bright and inquisitive mind, bursts with energy and keeps asking questions over and over about everything around her.
Only 10 years have passed since the end of what was then called the Great War and the world is on the verge of a new economic crisis. With the aim of bringing a new economic order to the world and a superior society in all aspects, several theories and groups emerge among which, eugenics is the most important.
Edward, Eleanor’s husband is a war veteran, well known for his studies in the field of eugenics. He participates in international congresses, has written several books and gives talks throughout the country with the aim of spreading his ideas and the importance of their application as soon as possible.
He is about to present what will be his most important work, which could make him worthy of a title of nobility but also, with which he intends as a first step, to modify the entire educational system of the United Kingdom. But as usually happens in these cases, when he already believed he had assured success, a setback arose.
Something very fortuitous, but which overturns all his theories and beliefs. It is up to him to face reality and rethink his whole theory or pretend nothing has happened and draw a thin veil over everything that bothers him and goes against his way of thinking.
The Hidden Child has been a very intense and interesting read in many aspects. It is undeniable the great knowledge that the author has of the subject in addition to the great documentation work she has done.
I was very surprised to find myself with a singular and unusual character such as a disease and that in this story plays a major and decisive role around which everything revolves.
But it’s also the first time I read about eugenics that I knew nothing about and I can’t help wondering how an idea that was so good in principle could become the basis of Nazi politics and horrors. I can’t help but be horrified by how destructive human beings can be.
With respect to the characters, we have a wide range of very well-defined characters, with Eleanor being the most evolved throughout the novel. At first she is an intelligent woman with her own ideas but who by life’s circumstances, believes that her husband is her savior and feels so fortunate to have him that in the end she lives in his shadow.
When life hits her and begins to show her a very different reality than she is used to, her reaction was not at all what I expected and I loved it. Both she and her sister are women with strong personalities and a way of thinking well ahead of their time and social status.
This is a novel in which everything has a place. The author puts us very well in the historical and political context through the characters. We can understand the historical moment and the ideals that move them even if we cannot share their way of thinking.
We can even understand Edward that he has forged his life into an idea and has done the impossible to stay true to it even if that means not being true to himself in most cases.
The Hidden Child is a powerful book, ideal for reading in a book club to share impressions because this is one of those stories that teach more than history books, arouse a lot of debate and arouse interest.
Eleanor, married to Edward, a hero in WW I and also a professor who is interested in eugenics science. He's is the middle of research will try to push the bill of sterilisation of those who are "unfit" to reproduce in the society, to curb over-breeding by the lower orders and inferior races, who qualified as defective. It's a very controversial topic 😱
Unfortunately, they then have to face that their daughter, Mabel, has epilepsy which means will contradict his research and view.
While Mabel then being put in an institution and her condition gets worse, Eleanor learns more also about Edward's research and fight to get Mabel back to her normal life.
This is another enjoyable historical fiction read from Louise Feinn.
Thank you Netgalley and Head of Zeus for eARC of this book.
I really enjoyed this book very interesting storyline and page turner, i will be reading more of this author.
I found this book fascinating.
Edward and Eleanor are happily married with a young daughter and another child on the way. Both members of the eugenics society, Edward is working on a proposal that will change the face of Britain. Their life changes forever when their toddler daughter, Mabel begins to suffer seizures. How can this happen to the daughter of a prominent eugenics supporter? Can she be fixed? Can they keep her hidden? This intriguing story keeps you reading long after you thought you’d stop.
I felt the author did an excellent job creating realistic characters. You didn’t always agree with them, but you understood their thought process! The whole book was well written and decently paced. It’s not a part of history I was particularly familiar with, and I was horrified and interested all at once. I will seek out further books by this author! Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for my copy of this book.
A really good read. I loved the story and the main characters they were all interesting, and the epilepsy that little Mabel suffered from was so interesting to read but also heartbreaking to learn how it was treated years ago. So well written by the author it made this a real page Turner for me .An excellent novel
Eleanor seems to have it all, including a devoted, successful husband, Edward, and a delightful four-year-old daughter, Mabel. But when Mabel starts having seizures, life takes a drastic turn. For Edward is a passionate advocate of the eugenics movement and is pushing for the forced sterilisation of those the movement sees as defective – people like Mabel. How far will the family go to keep their secrets hidden?
Louise Fein has once again written a moving emotional story. There were a number of times when I had tears in my eyes reading about Mabel.
Set in 1929 a between-the-wars story that is unusual in that it evolves around the study of eugenics and the 'treatment' for epilepsy.
Edward and Eleanor Hamilton are happily married with a young child, Mabel who suffers from seizures and her prognosis from recovery from epilepsy is poor. Much to Eleanor's distress Edward insists Mabel is sent away from home to be 'cured'.
He is an eminent academician who has inherited wealth from his father. He is working on a study that he hopes will put weak-minded and feeble people of the lower classes away so that the healthy, wealthier classes can survive. When Mabel's illness manifests itself her father is torn by having to keep her a secret to protect his reputation and he insists that his study is based on accuracy even when the facts are queried. Edward is also harbouring a secret about his war-time service during World War One.
The harrowing treatment meted out to Mabel makes her suffering far worse than it needed to be and these sections are hard to read. Treatment for epilepsy has come a long way from 100 years ago but it is not a curable disease and Ms Fein has done a remarkable job in bringing it to our attention through this novel.
The characters are well-drawn as is the period. There is a light-heartedness provided by some of the secondary characters, including Eleanor's best friend Sophie, and her younger sister, Rose.
I highly recommend The Hidden Child and thanks go to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for the opportunity to red and review it.
Genre: historical fiction
Minority representation: disability (epilepsy)
Trigger warnings: Eugenics, Racism, Ableism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, war trauma.
Eleanor Hamilton has had a turbulent life after the death of her Father and two brothers from the Great War. Then, the brutal murder of her mother left her utterly alone with her young sister, Rose. But that’s behind her now as she married Edward, has a beautiful daughter of her own and another baby on the way. It makes the dream complete.
That is, until daughter Mabel begins to act strangely. Surely, she hasn’t fallen ill with something that could’ve come from faulty genes?
I absolutely loved this book the moment I opened it. As a History nerd I was immediately interested as I’ve read a bit about the eugenics movement in the UK and US. I knew that it contributed a lot to the genocide in world war 2, sadly, but other countries were also fanatics in the movement. I think the picture drawn in this book reflects reality very well, although a happy ending wouldn’t likely be happening for those deemed unfit.
I read the author is a mother of a child with epilepsy and in the book, it reflects that. As the book is written from the perspective of the parents (and epilepsy itself), I could feel Eleanor’s heartache through the writing. This book pulverised my heart, and at the right moment filled it with hope. It was clearly written by a mother who loves her daughter very much and reflected all this love on Eleanor. She was such a strong character, as were Rose, Edward and the supporting characters. I could picture all of them clearly in my head, which is a difficult thing for an author to pull off. Fein did it. She took a hold of every sense in my body and played with it with every word she wrote.
Edward’s perspective was difficult to read. Not only because I’m chronically ill myself, but because I’m firmly against the Eugenics movement and the legacy it tragically left behind. Luckily, in my country it didn’t leave much behind, but Edward’s perspective hurt me. But I don’t think this hurt isn't in any way a bad thing, as this hurt brought me closer to Eleanor and Mabel. I think Edward’s perspective did exactly what it was supposed to do. And in the end, I would’ve made the exact same choices Eleanor made concerning her daughter and relationship.
Then there’s one perspective more. This is the most daring, experimental and greatest perspective I’ve ever read in a book. I loved how Fein gave Epilepsy a voice. For me, it made the book a masterpiece. Epilepsy, who I pictured as the woman with fire hair, leads the reader on as to be innocent, all the while damaging Mabel’s brain. It was the perspective I looked most forward to read. The chapters had something beautiful and poetic and damned the Eugenics movement just like I would. Disease doesn’t care about politics and this perspective reflected that masterfully.
To finish my words of triumph for this book. I loved the subplots with Rose and Marcel and the new flavour they brought to the table. Also, Sophie, who is less present, but when she is, she shines as a character. Her distinguished voice and actions elevated the book more than I thought possible.
To conclude, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I would encourage anyone interested in the horrors of the eugenics movement and willing to learn what life meant for the disabled and chronically ill in the past to read this. Fein’s writing is immaculate and the emotions she forces you to feel makes it as if you’re there with Eleanor and her life’s troubles as her daughter may forever slip away from her fingers.
Thank you to Head of Zeus, Louise Fein, and Net galley for providing me with a copy of this book. I’ve had a wonderful experience reading.
Having loved Louise Fein’s previous book, People Like Us, I was keen to read whatever she came up with next. However, I’ll freely admit that as someone with epilepsy – thankfully controlled with medication (as it happens the same one mentioned in the Author’s Note) – its subject matter made it a challenging read for me. However, I was reassured to learn the book was inspired by the author’s personal experience of bringing up a child with epilepsy and her desire to raise awareness of the stigma and misunderstanding that still exists about the condition, not least the fact that epilepsy can take many different forms.
For the reasons I’ve stated, it’s difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like to live with epilepsy at a time when it was viewed as something shameful, something to be hidden and that would have had you categorized as an ‘undesirable’.
At first I thought the author had set herself an impossible task in making me feel any empathy towards Edward. Seemingly heedless of his own hypocrisy, he espouses a belief in eugenics, a philosophy I find utterly repugnant. Although I appreciate such views were held in certain circles at the time, I couldn’t help but be appalled by Edward’s comments and those of his fellow eugenicists about ‘undesirables’, ‘hordes of defectives’ and ‘inferior races’. There were moments in the book that were too close to home, such as Edward’s inclusion of epileptics, alongside criminals and alcoholics, in a list of those judged to be the result of ‘overbreeding by the lower stratus of the population’. (The Author’s Note provides fascinating information about the history of the Eugenics Movement.)
Learning more about the tragic events in Eleanor’s life made me understand why she was susceptible to the theory of eugenics. Her fear that, if her sister Rose was to bear a child by her boyfriend Marcel, it might lower the quality of Rose’s ‘excellent genes’ made me shudder. However I could well imagine Eleanor’s distress at witnessing her daughter Mabel’s seizures, her feeling of helplessness and the growing realisation that her sweet-natured little girl had been changed irrevocably. As it turns out, Eleanor is forced to revise her opinion of Marcel when he gives her a gift just as valuable as his devotion to Rose. Where initially I’d thought Eleanor weak, I began to admire her willingness to fight the forces arrayed against her in defence of Mabel’s future, and in the end I was cheering for her.
I was hoping Edward’s personal experience would make him revise his views on eugenics but his motivation continued to be fear of disclosure and how his reputation would be affected should Mabel’s condition become known. In addition, it transpires he has another shameful secret he’d rather was not revealed. Will Edward’s realisation of his mistakes come eventually, or will it be too late?
One of the most striking elements of the book were the sections in which we hear the ‘voice’ of Mabel’s condition, revelling in its ability to wreak havoc on the human brain. ‘I am anti-order. I am chaos. I disrupt and disturb.’ I thought this was inspired. Depicting the human response to epilepsy as analogous to a contest of wits made me think of all those who have waged war on on the condition over the decades: from those who carried out research and developed the drugs we now have to control it in many cases, to the specialists who support those with it and the charities who work to raise awareness.
As you have no doubt gathered from this review, The Hidden Child had a very personal resonance for me and it was a difficult read at times. In particular, I found much of what Mabel undergoes harrowing to witness. But those closing chapters… I’ll admit tears were shed. The Hidden Child is beautifully written and made me appreciate how far we have come as a society and how fortunate I am to be living in a more enlightened age.
I was immersed in this book from the first page! Written from the heart by an author who, having experienced all the emotions herself, lays bare the anguish and the pain of having an ill child. The story takes place as the country recovers from the First World War. Edward is climbing up the ladder of success with his dreams of aiding the people of war torn Britain to become a perfect race. He is the picture of a loving husband to Eleanor and the perfect father to little Mabel. He has even taken on the care and education of Eleanor’s much younger sister Rose. However, all is not as it seems! Edward has a past and little Mabel is a cause for concern. Based on horrifying factual evidence this is a tale not to be missed! A story which made life difficult - it had to be read immediately! Could there be a further tale to follow? I would be first in the queue to read if so!
Eleanor appears to have everything but then her young daughter starts to suffer with seizures. This presents a conflict as her husband is heavily involved in the eugenics movement. The author really brings to light just how outdated the attitudes of 100 years ago were. The story captivated me despite the fact that historical novels are not my usual genre. I look forward to more of the authors books.
What an amazing read! My favorite books are those where I learn something new and this was definitely the case with this read. Such a dilemma for Edward, who has been spearheading the eugenics movement in London in the 1920’s , when he realizes his own family is affected. His wife, Eleanor, also believes in the movement, but both deal with the dilemma quite differently. Having worked with several children with epilepsy, the descriptions are extremely accurate. Both Eleanor and Edward tell the story from their own perspective, but a third very creative voice, epilepsy, also tells part of the story.
I actually learned a great deal about the background of the eugenics movement. The most impressive part of this book for me involves the monitoring of ketones…in the 1920’s. I found that so fascinating! I have also spent time further researching to answer some of the questions I had after finishing this incredible book…another sign of a very special read.
The juxtaposition of Eleanor’s and Edward’s morals and approach to their dilemma was very powerful. I was clearly urging them on from the sidelines as I truly cared about these three characters. So many issues woven so seamlessly into a very memorable story. Don’t miss this unforgettable read. Many many thanks to Louise Fein, William Morrow, and NetGalley for affording me the opportunity to read an arc of this soon to be published book.
I remember I read something about the British Eugenics movement in Dorothy L. Sayers' "Gaudy Night". It was born as a way to improve humankind and become something else.
After WWII we find hard to talk about these ideas as they're removed from our way of thinking.
This book is thought provoking and poignant, a family has to deal with epilepsy and the father is involved in the eugenic movement.
Even if the author deals with these serious issues it's an engrossing read and a story of relationships.
Epilepsy was considered something to be ashamed and the author describes how the society dealt with this illness.
It's an excellent read that talks about a darker side of society.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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