A rich and varied cultural and social history of an overlooked but ever-present phenomenon, and an impassioned plea for proper care today.
Orphans, like widows, have always officially been objects of piety and compassion. But this has rarely been reflected in their treatment by society, which has often punished, abused or ill-treated them.
Orphans illuminates the attitudes behind this maltreatment—often, that those without parents are disruptive or malevolent, and must be trained into wholesome disciplines of labour and obedience. Charting the changing and often loose definitions of ‘orphans’ throughout history, Seabrook explores their many ‘makers’, from natural or man-made catastrophes and social dislocation to the State, charity and other forces that have separated children, and especially the poor, from their close kin.
Drawing on historic documents, interviews, memoirs and living testimonies, Jeremy Seabrook probes how it has felt to belong to this distinctive, and often stigmatised, group over the centuries. But this history is not only one of suffering—Orphans also reveals the uncounted millions taken in and loved by relatives, neighbours or strangers. Driven by their insecurity and freedom from constraints, their achievements have often been remarkable.
Jeremy Seabrook is the author of more than forty books on subjects as diverse as transnational prostitution, child labour, social class, ageing, unemployment and poverty. His most recent include Pauperland: Poverty and the Poor in Britain and The Song of the Shirt: The High Price of Cheap Garments, from Blackburn to Bangladesh, which won the Bread and Roses Prize for Radical Publishing in 2016.