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Secret Sins

Secret Sins: Sex, Violence & Society in Carmarthenshire 1870-1920

Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 2
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  • Book Info
    Secret Sins
    Book Description:

    Sleepy rustic Carmarthenshire was secretly a hotbed of debauchery, violence and drunkenness according to Russell Davies in a new edition of his very successful book, ‘Secret Sins’. Behind the facade of idyllic rural life, there was a twilight world of mental illness, suicide, crime, vicious assaults, infanticide, cruelty and other assorted acts of depravity. This almost anecdotal historical study is often funny, sometimes disturbing, always revealing.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2557-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Russell Davies
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Russell Davies
  6. Introduction: Private Lives, Public Witnesses: The Individual and Society in Carmarthenshire
    (pp. 1-13)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, Carmarthenshire was portrayed in contemporary literature as a beautiful, unspoilt Arcadia. One author, viewing the county from the windswept, wild hills above Rhandir-mwyn, saw a promised land – ‘the milk and honey lands of Carmarthenshire’.¹ Rhys Davies, the author of several classic short stories, recalled Carmarthenshire as ‘the county of my childhood years, everlastingly green in my broken nose’. He regarded the town of Carmarthen as ‘the cows’ capital of Wales … prosperously lactic’.² To Gwenallt, crossing the boundary into the county was a thrilling experience, an embrace with nature’s immemorial, natural order.³...

  7. 1 A Sense of Place
    (pp. 14-88)

    Decline, stagnation and expansion are obvious, but appropriate, descriptions for the demographic experience of the different counties of south Wales during the period 1870–1920. Decline was the tortuous experience of rural Cardiganshire. Between the censuses of 1871 and 1921 the county had experienced a painful decrease of 18.5 per cent of its population. The decline in the coastal sea trade, the collapse of the leadmining industry and the prevailing gloom over the future of agriculture combined to drive people out of Cardiganshire. In Pembrokeshire the same problems prevailed to a lesser degree. Thus there was little change in the...

  8. 2 A Psychic Crisis? The Social Context of Mental Illness and Suicide
    (pp. 89-111)

    This awareness by individuals that they were living in an age of unprecedented rapid change and development, and the ‘disenchantment of the world’ that was perceived and articulated by many contemporaries, is clearly seen if we consider the mental health of Carmarthenshire’s people at the turn of the twentieth century. To achieve this the historian needs to examine the tender and tortuous history of the county’s mental health hospital. In the nineteenth century people were much harsher in their decription of this noble institution. A character in one of Caradoc Evans’s short stories, the frightening and repulsive ‘Shadrach the Large’,...

  9. 3 ‘Secret Sins’: Crime and Protest
    (pp. 112-155)

    For many late nineteenth-century commentators, the most notable feature of crime in Wales was its absence. To Thomas Rees, writing in the 1860s, ‘the inhabitants of Wales, under all their disadvantages, are more virtuous than their better conditioned neighbours in the adjoining English counties.’¹ In his memoirs of his early life in the parish of Cynwyl Gaeo, the Reverend David Davies identified the agent responsible for the Welsh people’s superior virtues:

    it is the Protestant Nonconformity of the Welsh people, as lived and taught by their religious teachers during the last two centuries, that has preserved them from ignorance, lawlessness...

  10. 4 Sexuality and Tension
    (pp. 156-185)

    The sexual behaviour of Victorian people has been more comprehensively misunderstood and misrepresented than probably any other aspect of Victorian life. Writers on Victorian sexuality have portrayed the Victorians as almost entirely repressive and repressed.¹ Despite the work of a number of historians who have dared to suggest that mutual pleasure was to be found in the Victorian marriage bed,² the word Victorian remains, like the word ‘Puritan’, synonymous with a set of morals and sexual values which are regarded as odd and even bizarre.³ The dominant perceptions are those of a paranoid prudery which sought to protect statues with...

  11. 5 Spiritual Skeletons: Religion, Superstition and Popular Culture
    (pp. 186-230)

    It was a truth universally acknowledged that nineteenth-century Welsh people were fervently religious. Moreover, they were Nonconformists. This message was ceaselessly propounded from the pulpits, the political platforms and the printing presses of nineteenth-century Wales. In 1866, Henry Richard, laid the foundations for the equation of Welshness and Nonconformity when he wrote: ‘It may be stated that in general terms the Welsh are now a nation of Nonconformists.’¹ Probably no single statement from a nineteenth-century political leader caused as much joy and celebration in Wales as did Gladstone’s assertion in 1891 that ‘The Nonconformists of Wales are the people of...

  12. Conclusion: Carmarthenshire and Welsh Society
    (pp. 231-239)

    G. M. Trevelyan has been famously, and frequently, misquoted as stating that social history is history with the politics letf out.¹ Gwyn Alf Williams, somewhere, sometime, mischievously commented that for a long time Welsh history has been history with the Welsh left out.² Whatever words may be wasted in condemnation or praise of this book, it is hoped that no-one will describe this as a history of Carmarthenshire with the people left out. The individual case history, bristling with novelty, inconsistency and unpredictability, has been the building-block of this historical work and it is pertinent that before concluding we establish...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 240-323)
  14. Index
    (pp. 324-327)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 328-328)