It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The Hidden Child by Louise Fein. Today you’re in for a treat, a small extract of this powerful story – The Hidden Child.
About the Author
Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Her debut novel, People Like Us (entitled Daughter of the Reich in the USA/Canada, has been published in thirteen territories, was shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021 and the RNA Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award 2021. Her books are predominantly set during the twentieth century and all of her books seek to explore issues that continue to be of relevance today. Follow @FeinLouise on Twitter
About the book
From the outside, Eleanor and Edward Hamilton have the perfect life, but they’re harbouring a secret that threatens to fracture their entire world.
London, 1929. – Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an 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, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the ‘undesirable’ conditions that Edward campaigns against.
Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward’s life’s 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?
Extract of The Hidden Child
Brook End is a big house, by most people’s reckoning. It’s not a stately home, as such, but a handsome, brick-built, sprawling villa, four storeys high, and a mere twenty years old. A suitable residence for a respected member of the upper-middle classes, with a growing family and an even faster-growing reputation for being the expert in his field of psychology and education. It’s quite the ticket. Modern is far more suitable for a Man of Science. Edward could undoubtedly have picked up a mansion steeped in history, with a large estate, had he been minded so to do. As soon as he and Eleanor had become engaged, he’d searched in earnest for the right country house for his bride-to-be. He had wanted to give her the very best he could afford, especially after all that she had been through, coming as she did from a good, professional family. Her father had been a financier in the City of London and she had grown up with money until the devastating loss of all the male members of her family during the war had sent their fortunes spiralling downwards, forcing her mother and Eleanor herself to seek work.
Five years ago, there had been a fair few stately homes going on the cheap, but Edward’s private bankers, Coleroy & Mack, had advised him against taking on such a venture, and their financial acumen, their hunch about the British economy and the increasing tax burden wealthy landowners would have to carry, had been proven right.
With the aristocracy selling up in their droves and investing their money elsewhere, he is happy not to have assumed their hefty tax burden, not to mention the social and economic responsibility they were all busy extricating themselves from. No, Edward congratulates himself for not falling into that trap. He might be considered by some to be nouveau riche or, as Barton Leyton once called him, a wealthy upstart, and stately home or no stately home, the people of polite society would continue to sniff down their haughty noses at him. But, unlike Barton, who moans regularly about the cost of keeping Mayfield Manor from crumbling around him, Brook End requires little maintenance and boasts both modern conveniences and ample space, as well as a beautiful location. Besides, Eleanor, who is of far better breeding stock than Edward, seems perfectly content with the house. At least, she never says she isn’t.
‘Evening, sir,’ Alice greets him at the front door.
‘Good evening to you too, Alice,’ he replies, noticing her round and freckled face is flushed with excitement.
‘Mrs Hamilton collected Miss Carmichael from the station earlier today,’ she gushes. ‘Lovely to have her home, isn’t it? She’s told me all about her tour around Italy. It sounded wonderful. And you must hear her speak French! Like a native, she is.’
‘Indeed? And what did she say?’
‘Oh, heavens, I’ve no idea. She could have been telling me I’m the queen of England for all I know, but it did sound lovely, like.’
Edward smiles indulgently. ‘I see. And where are the ladies now?’
‘Changing for dinner, I believe. It’ll be served in fifteen minutes.’
‘Excellent. I just have enough time to wash and change myself.’
Taking the stairs, he notices how empty the house is without a dog. A house really isn’t a home without a dog in it. It’s been over a month since Patch died. He must look into replacing him.
‘My darling!’ And there she is, standing arms outstretched at the top of the stairs. Eleanor. His beautiful wife.
He bounds up the last two, grabs her and pulls her into an embrace. ‘Oh, how I’ve missed you!’ he says, breathing in her lily-of-the-valley scent. He picks her up and swings her around, making her shriek and giggle.
‘Edward!’ she cries. ‘Put me down!’
‘Urgh, it’s making me dizzy! Someone will see!’
‘Who cares,’ he laughs, and releases her.
‘Go and wash and change,’ she smiles up at him. ‘You smell of London.’
‘I do? And how does that smell?’
‘Like old boots!’ she laughs. ‘Scrub it off and put on some of that cologne I gave you for your birthday. That will be a great improvement!’ She blows him a kiss and skips downstairs. ‘I must speak to Mrs Bellamy before she ruins the soup!’
Edward is a bright star and mover in the popular Eugenics movement, but when his family is confronted with their own less than perfect specimen, ergo child with an impairment. What does that mean for Edward and Eleanor going forward and their standing in society, and more importantly what does it mean for Mabel?
I’d like to say the Hamilton’s are not indicative of beliefs at that time, however eugenics have been a popular pseudo-science for a long time, directly linked to white supremacy, colonialism and the rule of white men. The belief that certain people are superior to others in intellect based on certain genetic characteristics, colour of skin, race.
Also that any condition suggesting a lack of perfection would also be deemed a lack of intelligence, such as epilepsy, special needs, any ‘imperfection’ really. Society and what is perceived as an imperfection is a steadily moving and evolving target. The need to breed perfection also meant trying to ensure faults weren’t passed on, the atrocities of the Nazi Party are a perfect example of the teachings of eugenics. It’s important to note that interestingly enough the term and theory of eugenics evolved from Darwin’s survival of the fittest via his cousin Galton, who felt that society should be encourage to breed like with like to ensure the purity and strength of species.
Fein always likes to throw a moral conundrum into the mix. Riveting historical fiction with fascinating characters, but the maelstrom at the core of the story is always a question of conscience, of right and wrong, which is often directly linked to certain periods in time. For instance are decisions made during wartime, or certain eras, ones you wouldn’t have made under other circumstances?
In this book the topic of eugenics, which is at the centre of the oppression of minorities and has been for centuries is brought down to the core. It becomes a personal question of ideology and when family defies the so-called logic of that ideology – then what?
What if your family or a family member, in this case a child is considered exactly what you are advocating against. Do you fold to society or do you do what is humane and correct for your child?
This is what I really enjoy about this author, I always come away from her books with questions and have great conversations with fellow readers about said moral conundrums. That in itself, and the fact I could write about this story for yonks, is indicative of a fantastic storyteller, and also one that feels it’s important to leave a footprint where they have written and engaged.