Born in Shame is a romance novel about a highly driven, unmarried advertising executive in New York, Shannon Bodine, who discovers an unseemly secret about her origins which takes her to Ireland, where she builds a new life. In the span of one year, Shannon has witnessed the sudden death of her father, Colin Bodine, and the terminal illness of her mother, Amanda Bodine. On her deathbed, Shannon's mother reveals that Shannon is not the child of Colin, as Shannon had been told growing up, but the product of fling that her mother had while vacationing in Ireland before she met Colin. Her real father, Shannon is told, is an Irish farmer named Thomas Concannon, who was still residing in an small Irish town when her mother last saw him.
Shannon is devastated by the news that she is not the child of her beloved and recently deceased "father," whose memory she still held dear. Colin, who knew all along that Shannon was not his child, was nevertheless an exceedingly loving, devoted, and attentive father to Shannon. It was Colin who gave Shannon her "…determination, ambition, and a steady sense of self." (2). This steady sense of self, however, was more fragile than Shannon imagined and was finally shattered by this revelation about her origins.
Shannon, who is very status-oriented and driven to succeed, is also upset by the news that she is the illegitimate child of some rustic Lothario in a land far away. Shannon has a difficult time believing, or accepting, that she is the child of an obscure farmer in the Irish countryside as opposed to a man of some distinction. Even worse than that, the man does not know that Shannon exists.
Shannon, a highly independent women without a lot of close friends, had lost her sense of self. Colin and her mother Amanda were the only "family" that Shannon, an only child, ever knew. Furthermore, her mother Amanda broke off relations with her own family, unsympathetic Catholics, because of Shannon's very birth so Shannon had no extended family to look to. Not only did Shannon's only remaining family in the world leave her, she was told that this family was not her actual family. Her "real" family, if he still existed, was as ignorant of her as she was of him, or, as it happens, them.
Devastated by the news but somehow drawn to know more, Shannon hires a private investigator to look into the mysterious figure who was responsible for her existence. Her efforts reveal that this Thomas Concannon had passed away long ago, leaving a wife and two adult daughters behind. Though this news might have brought closure to many, Shannon is hungry to know more about this past for which she feels such shame.
After much struggle, Shannon resolves to visit Thomas's legitimate daughters, Margaret and Brianna in Ireland. Though resentful that she never received an opportunity to meet her real father, Shannon wanted to salvage whatever family she still had left, even if their actual familial connection is tenuous. After all, they were merely half-sisters living on different continents who were ignorant of each others' existence for most of their lives.
Shannon receives a mixed reception from her newfound family. The calm and compassionate sister, Brianna, fittingly the owner of a bed and breakfast, welcomed Shannon into her life as if she was welcoming her home. The independent and reclusive sister, Margaret, however, was hesitant to let Shannon into her life, regarding her as an intruding stranger for most of the novel. It is with Margaret, who is very similar to Shannon in her independence and distrust of others, that Shannon learns how to trust other people and also what it is to become a family.
Her father's home in Ireland, however, does not truly become home for Shannon until she finds in it the love of her life, as her father and mother did. Shannon finds this in Murphy Muldoon, the close childhood friend and neighbour of the Concannon sisters. Murphy is something of a surrogate brother to the Concannon sisters, a part of their home in a way.
Murphy, a farmer by trade, upends every conception that Shannon had about life in rural Ireland and of her origins. He is highly cultured, talented, and accomplished, everything that Shannon valued about her life back in New York. However, unlike what Shannon is used to in New York, Murphy is simple, decisive, and tied to his home. He seems nurtured by it in a way which is completely foreign to Shannon. Murphy shows her that all of these qualities which she strives so hard for in the big city rat race can be found at home.
Shannon finds herself enjoying life in the countryside, not necessarily because it is in the countryside but because it is full of people that she loves. These people, especially Murphy, give Shannon a new sense of confidence and well-being completely independent her career or status.
Although the revelation regarding Shannon's origins deprived her of her sense of self, it also gave her an opportunity to redefine that sense of self, which was ultimately deficient. Shannon, who was left with no remaining family in the world, was in some ways relieved that she still had some family left in the world. Shannon's judgment of her origins as "shameful," however, prevented her from acknowledging this news as an opportunity. Only after falling in love with Murphy did Shannon realize that her origins were not a blemish on her hard-won identity, but a precious human link that had been kept in reserve for her by well-meaning parents.
The Discovery of Self through Union
Like the heroines of many romance novels, Shannon is yearning for love without knowing it. Shannon, like all romance novel heroines, only chances upon during the arduous pursuit of another goal. It matters very little what the other goal is, whether it is reconnecting with long-lost family or saving the world, the heroine is only complete when she falls in love. Although Shannon confronts many personal flaws in the process of connecting with her long-lost sisters, she can only succeed when she finds the love of her life. In this way, Born in Shame shows that a romance novel is defined more by its ending than its subject matter.
Unlike the gothic romantic novels of the early 19th century, which has the hero rescuing the captive princess from some vile fate while ridding the world of a more universal evil, the romance novel has the heroine falling in love in the process of finding herself. So subtle is Shannon's search for love here, in fact, that much of the novel contains no mention of any problems in Shannon's love life. Yet it is the resolution of Shannon's love life that completes her journey, allowing her to dwell blissfully in the outcome of her struggle.
Just as the hero always gets the girl, the heroine always gets a guy, though not "the" guy. That is, the heroine never knows who she must end up with and only finds out after much doubt and indecision has been resolved. This uncertainty is indicative of romance novels in general, and the resolution of it is proof that the heroine has finally become confident and complete. The men that the heroines end up with are great of course, but are not themselves the decisive factor in the story. Rather, it is the heroine's hard-won confidence and self-respect that allow her to enjoy rather than covet her lover.
Born in Shame demonstrates the most compelling quality of romance novels, the search for love as the search for self and vice versa. Shannon's basic dilemma in the novel is not romantic in nature, but rather is related to family. She loses her…