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How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mateby Wendy Moore
Synopses & Reviews
In How to Create the Perfect Wife, prize-winning historian Wendy Moore tells the extraordinary true story of one mans mission to groom a woman to become his ideal mate. Thomas Day (1748-1789) was an 18th-century writer, philosopher, and radical who campaigned against slavery and championed American independence. He is still acclaimed today as a pioneering childrens writer. But Day had one major peculiarity: While still in his teens he had developed a fixed vision of the woman he wanted to marry. Pure and virginal like an English country maid, tough and hardy like a Spartan heroine, she would live with him in a remote cottage totally subservient to his whims. After being rejected by a number of spirited young women, Day concluded that his ideal woman did not exist anywhere in fashion-obsessed Georgian society. He would therefore have to create her.
A few days after he turned 21, when he inherited a large independent fortune, Day selected an orphan from a Foundling Hospital with the intention of grooming her to become his bride. The child was a pretty 12-year-old girl with auburn ringlets, but Day was careful to hedge his bets, and a few weeks later he selected a second orphan—an 11-year-old girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, by way of contrast—as his fallback pupil. Day gave the girls the new names Sabrina and Lucretia, to reflect his interest in classical history.
Inspired by the educational ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Day proceeded to educate both girls to read and write, to adopt his views, and to comport themselves according to his singular ideas of feminine virtue. After six months training in the south of France, he discarded Lucretia as invincibly stupid” and focused all his efforts on Sabrina. He devised cruel trials, such as dropping hot wax on her skin and firing pistols at her skirts, to test her resolve. Inevitably, the educational experiment ended badly. Sabrina rebelled against her domestic slavery; Day rejected her in favor of other women he hoped to mould to fit the vacant space in his life. Yet all the time his perfect wife was waiting in the wings.
Stranger than fiction, blending tragedy and farce, How to Create the Perfect Wife tells a riveting true story that illuminates abiding and universal themes. Day now seems an absurd figure with a bizarre obsession—yet who among us has not searched for a perfect other half? Or dared to believe we can change another person to meet our vision of perfection? How to Create the Perfect Wife also explores changing ideas in education, the role of women in 18th century society, and the widespread influence of the Enlightenments revolutionary ideals. Based on meticulous research in archives and contemporary accounts and written with Moores journalistic eye for narrative and detail, How to Create the Perfect Wife is an engrossing tale of the radicalism—and deep contradictions—at the heart of the Enlightenment.
"Enlightenment ideals become weapons in the battle of the sexes in this riotous saga of ill-starred romance. Journalist Moore (Wedlock) recounts the bizarre marriage project of Thomas Day, an 18th-century radical whose disdain for grooming, fashion, polite society, and female agency led to a string of rebuffed proposals and broken engagements. Taking a page from Rousseau's Ã‰mile, he procured two tween-aged orphan girls with the object of teaching one to be his contradictory ideal of a wife: virginal, modest, stoically tough (he used hot wax and pistol shots to inure his star pupil to pain and fear), content to be his drudge in an isolated rural hovel, yet intellectually sophisticated enough to admire his progressive notions of freedom and autonomy. Moore sets Day's mad pedagogy amid a droll account of his upper-class circle and their chaotic love lives, in which passions are advanced and thwarted through curlicued social niceties. Moore's funny, psychologically rich narrative feels as if Jane Austen had reworked Shaw's Pygmalion into a Gothic-inflected comedy of manners, and illuminates the era's confusions about nature and nurture, sentiment and rationalism, love and power. The result is both a scintillating read and compelling social history. Illus. Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville and Walsh Literary Agency (U.K.)." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Thomas Day, an 18th-century British writer and radical, knew exactly the sort of woman he wanted to marry. Pure and virginal like an English country maid yet tough and hardy like a Spartan heroine, she would live with him in an isolated cottage, completely subservient to his whims. But after being rejected by a number of spirited young women, Day concluded that the perfect partner he envisioned simply did not exist in frivolous, fashion-obsessed Georgian society. Rather than conceding defeat and giving up his search for the woman of his dreams, however, Day set out to create her.
So begins the extraordinary true story at the heart of How to Create the Perfect Wife, prize-winning historian Wendy Moores captivating tale of one mans mission to groom his ideal mate. A few days after he turned twenty-one and inherited a large fortune, Day adopted two young orphans from the Foundling Hospital and, guided by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the principles of the Enlightenment, attempted to teach them to be model wives. After six months he discarded one girl, calling her invincibly stupid,” and focused his efforts on his remaining charge. He subjected her to a number of cruel trials—including dropping hot wax on her arms and firing pistols at her skirts—to test her resolve but the young woman, perhaps unsurprisingly, eventually rebelled against her domestic slavery. Day had hoped eventually to marry her, but his peculiar experiment inevitably backfired—though not before he had taken his theories about marriage, education, and femininity to shocking extremes.
Stranger than fiction, blending tragedy and farce, How to Create the Perfect Wife is an engrossing tale of the radicalism—and deep contradictions—at the heart of the Enlightenment.
Thomas Day knew exactly the sort of woman he wanted to marry. Pure and virginal yet tough and hardy, she would live with him in an isolated cottage, completely subservient to his whims. As Day soon discovered, the woman of his dreams didnt seem to exist in Georgian society—but rather than concede defeat, Day set out to create her. He adopted two young orphans and, guided by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the principles of the Enlightenment, attempted to teach them to be model wives. Day hoped to eventually marry one of his wards, but the experiment inevitably backfired—though not before he had taken his theories about marriage, education, and femininity to their most shocking extremes.
In How to Create the Perfect Wife, acclaimed biographer Wendy Moore tells the captivating story of this bizarre experiment, illuminating the radicalism—and deep contradictions—at the heart of the Enlightenment.
About the Author
Wendy Moore has worked as a freelance journalist for over 25 years, and has written for The Times, the Guardian, the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph, and History Today. She currently writes a column on medical history for the British Medical Journal. Moore is the author of The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery, which won the Medical Journalists Association Consumer Book Award, was shortlisted for the Saltire Award and the Marsh Biography Award, and has been optioned for a television series directed by David Cronenberg. Her second book, Wedlock: How Georgian Britains Worst Husband Met His Match, reached #1 on the Sunday Times (London) bestseller list. Moore lives in London.
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