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How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate

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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 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 Moore’s captivating tale of one man’s 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.


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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 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 Moore’s captivating tale of one man’s 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.

30 review for How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    Fascinating and well-written. This book relates the bizarre tale of Thomas Day, wealthy English gentleman of the Enlightenment, who was obsessed with the educational theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. So much so that he kidnapped two orphans, with the goal of raising them so that one of them would become his wife, who would live with him in contentment in rural isolation, without servants and serving as his drudge mule, but providing him with intelligent conversation while obeying his every whim. Fascinating and well-written. This book relates the bizarre tale of Thomas Day, wealthy English gentleman of the Enlightenment, who was obsessed with the educational theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. So much so that he kidnapped two orphans, with the goal of raising them so that one of them would become his wife, who would live with him in contentment in rural isolation, without servants and serving as his drudge mule, but providing him with intelligent conversation while obeying his every whim. The lucky one was the one found unacceptable after six months, who was pensioned off. Moore also covers what happened to the other girl, to Day, to his friends, and to the story, which inspired several novelists of the 19th century, including Henry James. It's truly impressive how many famous people show up in this tale. I was also amused at how Day's characterization reminded me of that of Cato in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome novels, with smallpox scars replacing the beak nose.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Davie

    It rates a "5" for how well Moore wrote, although I would dearly love to give it a -5 for her subject! I hate to think what Moore's state of mind was upon finishing this... A biography about the Georgian poet, Stoic, philosopher, and hypocrite—Thomas Day. My Take Right out, I'm telling you that I greatly disliked the subject of this biography. My god, the man was an egotistical, selfish, rude, obnoxious hypocrite. Moore did write this very well---it read like a story. Only, it's a story I kept want It rates a "5" for how well Moore wrote, although I would dearly love to give it a -5 for her subject! I hate to think what Moore's state of mind was upon finishing this... A biography about the Georgian poet, Stoic, philosopher, and hypocrite—Thomas Day. My Take Right out, I'm telling you that I greatly disliked the subject of this biography. My god, the man was an egotistical, selfish, rude, obnoxious hypocrite. Moore did write this very well---it read like a story. Only, it's a story I kept wanting to put down. The more I read, the more I despised Thomas Day. The best I can say about his story [as opposed to Moore's story *grin*] is that I enjoyed the connections with scientists, thinkers, and writers. The way in which Rousseau's Émile was distorted out of context and how many children had to suffer because their parents were nuts! I'm so angry with Richard Edgerton for putting his son through this and then abandoning him when it wasn't Dick's fault! Arghhhh!! The one benefit to it was that Edgerton tried to find a compromise between the previously accepted method of educating children and Rousseau's general theory, and eventually he and his daughter Maria wrote Practical Education, a book that influenced education for decades and promoted "educational toys, models, books, maps, and scientific apparatus" in the playroom. A poet, Day, and his best friend, John Bicknell, wrote The Dying Negro. Day later went on to write a popular children's series, Stanford and Merton, which promoted "innocent virtue and stoical courage". Other friends included Richard Warburton-Lytton who helped found Oxford's Grecian Club, and William "Oriental" Jones, an expert linguist, who was translating the Arabian Nights back into Arabic. Erasmus Darwin (Charles' grandfather) was part of the Lunar Society of Birmingham (dubbed the Lunaticks) whose other members include James Watt of steam engine fame; Matthew Boulton, an industrialist; the potter Josiah Wedgwood; Dr. William Small, who was the closest to a father figure Day had; the vicious and selfish writer Anna Seward; and, James Keir, who was a chemist and inventor. Part of the oddness of this story is Moore's assuring us that so many people liked Day, and yet, it's all tell. Which probably isn't a fair comment as this isn't fiction. But it doesn't change the fact that I don't understand why anyone would like the man. He had no manners and would hold forth forever on his ideas, running roughshod over anyone. The heart of this story is Thomas Day, a young man-turned-Stoic as a result of his time at boarding school. And what a nut job! It's appalling that his friends all went along with his "enlightened attempt" to "educate"---hah, torture and abuse is more like it!---the perfect mate for this selfish, hypocritical jerk. He wanted a woman who would slavishly hang on his every word, accept it as law, and be willing to undergo the most horrible hardships—Day was greatly influenced by Rousseau's Émile and took Rousseau's words as hard-and-fast rules—giving up all forms of enjoyment, and be willing to live totally isolated in the worst sort of house. Oh, god, just thinking of it has me furious all over again. I'd love to get my hands on that ass! Naturally, Day continued his socializing and the pursuit of his interests. Only his wife must be willing to give up her writing, music, socializing, family, and any other enjoyments, so that she could cater to all his needs. A philosopher and poet, Day soon determined to "become the very model of the model virtuous man". He was also determined to "create" the model of a perfect mate and was influenced by Ovid's Metamorphoses and the myth of Pygmalion. Ovid's story and the books Seward and Edgerton wrote about Day's experiments with Sabrina influenced George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion , Fanny Burney's Evelina , Henry James' Watch and Ward , Maria Edgeworth's Belinda , and Anthony Trollope's Orley Farm . Ann Kingston was how the London Foundling Hospital named the baby they accepted; Day renamed her Sabrina Sidney. Ann Grig, the second orphan who became Lucretia, got lucky fast. Sabrina's friends included Dr. Charles Burney, a musician who eventually opened up a boy's school in Greenwich. She eventually took over managing the Burney School whose students included James Haliburton, Thomas Foxwell Buxton---and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright. The best you can say of the man is that he was generous with his money to the poor and friends whose businesses needed a loan; was anti-slavery; pro-education; and, thought women were equal to men, insisting on protecting them whether they wanted it or not... ...as long as you weren't his idea of a mate! Interesting side mentions included David Hume; Laurence Sterne (we keep meeting him in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series); Marquis de Sade; Captain Thomas Coram who founded the London Foundling Hospital; John Constable who married one of Sabrina's nieces, Maria Bicknell; Samuel Johnson; Mary Wollstonecraft; Joseph Wright; a fascinating reveal about John André who has appeared in a couple of other books I've recently read—C.C. Humphreys' Jack Absolute and Donna Thorland's The Turncoat (odd that Humphreys and Thorland both depict André as gay, but Moore only mentions that his proposal was rejected by Honora Sneyd); Benjamin Franklin; and, the Americans, Henry and John Laurens. The comment about the Rhône in Avignon as a refuge for upper-class people on the run was interesting. The Cover The cover is curious with its geometric splits: the two shades of beige for the general background cuts the primary title from the subtitle and the author's name, nothing unusual there. It's the four slices through the 18th century figure of a woman that have me wondering. What's the purpose? I have to wonder if it's a subtle indication of the different stages of Day's interference with Sabrina. The title sums up the entire story as it's Thomas Day's theory on How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate. Pay attention to italics on the book's cover---there's irony in every word!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Georgian jackass blowhard hates women but feels he has to marry one. Steals a couple of orphans to shape into his ideal wife. Is shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, when people think he was goddamned insane to think this was good idea. The reader is more shocked that anybody else besides him could think it was a delightful experiment and yet, there they are! Thomas Day is the most frustrating piece of work I have read about in a long time. Everybody runs around insisting he's this great pillar of virtue Georgian jackass blowhard hates women but feels he has to marry one. Steals a couple of orphans to shape into his ideal wife. Is shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, when people think he was goddamned insane to think this was good idea. The reader is more shocked that anybody else besides him could think it was a delightful experiment and yet, there they are! Thomas Day is the most frustrating piece of work I have read about in a long time. Everybody runs around insisting he's this great pillar of virtue, but I can only think that they were capable of believing that because, apparently, the Georgian people were one confused bunch of nuts. On the one hand, Day is this anti-slavery, philanthropist extraordinaire; on the other he has a two innocent girls cooped up in some apartment somewhere so that he can brainwash them into being conversational but mindless and adoring slaves to his every dreary whim. He can spend hours going on and on about whatever it is that he thinks is so terribly important and the other people, instead of thinking him a tiresome, self-aggrandizing bore, seem to think that this is just another delightful quirk of their slovenly companion. You know. Like his love slave scheme and all. I do not get this, Georgian Society. What is your deal? Spoiler alert: He manages to convince himself he's finally found a decent woman. They are miserably happy together. And childless. Everybody else in the book breeds like rabbits (even the old and the sickly (and lordy, lord are there a lot of sickly people running around)), but the one guys who goes so far as to to write a dang series of children's book can't seem to crank out a single baby. GEE I WONDER WHY? End yer spoilers. But, so, Day is a crappy human being. Why did I finish reading about him? Because everybody else is pretty all right. Some of them, Anna Seward (also childless surprise surprise) in particular, are probably insane as well, but they aren't as self-righteous about it (okay, maybe Anna is). Some of them, like Edgeworth, begin the book as terrible people with batty ideas, but they grow up and they learn things and they become better, happier, and much much more fertile people. Finally, there's Sabrina herself. We can't know too much about her while she was undergoing her ordeal, but that only seems to make her more fascinating and the story more amazing when we see that of the people in involved, she probably turned out the best, most reasonable, and least cracked of them all. Side note: Being fertile as a woman in Georgian England seemed to be kind of the worst thing ever. The reason Edgeworth ends up having twenty-two children is because he keeps marrying women who have four or five (on average) kids, and then drop dead. Four wives! All of them making babies! I wonder how they didn't run out of women. In any event, it makes Anna look a little less nutty in her barren spinsterhood. Having no children, she managed to make it to sixty-two! Good job, lady!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kath

    An excellent read, well written and researched. As well as Thomas Day's compelling yet horrifying quest to create the perfect wife, we also learned about his fascination with the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, his circle of friends (who were members of the 'Lunar Society') and life in 18th century England (particularly Lichfield). I found the history of the Foundling Hospital in London and how it was run particularly interesting and heart-rending. An excellent read, well written and researched. As well as Thomas Day's compelling yet horrifying quest to create the perfect wife, we also learned about his fascination with the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, his circle of friends (who were members of the 'Lunar Society') and life in 18th century England (particularly Lichfield). I found the history of the Foundling Hospital in London and how it was run particularly interesting and heart-rending.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mela

    This book is nonfiction which I have been reading like it was historical fiction. It is very interesting and many times touching. It is hard to be indifferent while reading this book. You just have to have some kind of feelings for characters. First of all it is a great nonfiction book. It describes the second part of XVIII century (mostly in Britain) and it is doing it brilliant. For such a fan of historical fiction like me it has helped me understand many aspects of historical background from This book is nonfiction which I have been reading like it was historical fiction. It is very interesting and many times touching. It is hard to be indifferent while reading this book. You just have to have some kind of feelings for characters. First of all it is a great nonfiction book. It describes the second part of XVIII century (mostly in Britain) and it is doing it brilliant. For such a fan of historical fiction like me it has helped me understand many aspects of historical background from other books. Maybe not all readers will be pleased because they will learn some raw and sad truths too. But mainly there are fascinating things in the book. A main plot is about Thomas Day (a British author [the children's book The History of Sandford and Merton] and abolitionist). His unusual, exceptional life showed me that a real human and real life can be more amazing than stories from books or movies. And he was a very fascinating person. "The philanthropist who could not pass a beggar without parting with his money, the nature lover who felt he did not have the right to stamp on a spider let alone mistreat a horse, the humanitarian who opposed slavery because it was the “absolute dependence of one man upon another,” was utterly convinced he had every right to keep a young woman subject to his total command and groom her to meet his desires," "He could never be happy; as an obsessive perfectionist, perfection would always stay tantalizingly out of reach." "Even if he had begrudged every penny, Day had been a genuine philanthropist in an age when charity was rare and a true enthusiast for social reform long before his time." "The story of Thomas Day’s quest to create a perfect wife symbolizes an eternal human desire: to craft a supreme being." "For most people, of course, such a notion stays firmly in the realm of fiction. Day took the quest for fashioning a perfect human being further perhaps than anyone before or since" "Yet at a time when people were locked in debate over the significance of nature over nurture, Day’s project did not seem quite so outlandish or immoral. As a product of his time, his gender and his rank, he possessed the power and money to pursue his quest, and he therefore believed he had every right to subvert another person to meet his ideals. He was, perhaps, more deluded than wicked" And an author writing about him and about Sabrina, his "perfect wife" describes us many elements eighteenth century life in Britain. Did you know that: "Illegitimacy rose throughout the eighteenth century in Britain as in Europe; the Georgian era has been dubbed “the century of illegitimacy.” But far from proving an upsurge in lax moral behavior, the rise was probably due chiefly to planned marriages being abandoned through unforeseen disasters. Traditionally it was common practice, especially in the countryside, for couples to enjoy intimate relations that were only legalized in church if and when the woman fell pregnant. But high living costs and wartime conscription, along with the Marriage Act of 1753 making weddings more complicated to arrange, deterred or prevented many well-intentioned couples from proceeding up the aisle" "Until the mid-1700s, newborn babies were often fed, or “dry-nursed,” with bread, cake or biscuit mixed with cow’s milk, butter and sugar—known as “pap”—supplemented by brandy, rum or wine" "the ancient city of Avignon provided an ideal winter refuge. Having served as the seat of seven popes for nearly seventy years during the fourteenth century—when it was the center of the medieval Western world—Avignon still fell under papal control as capital of the enclave, the Comtat Venaissin. The heavily fortified citadel was therefore conveniently beyond the reach not only of English but of French laws, making the city a favorite destination for political, religious and tax exiles of all nationalities as well as a natural hideout for smugglers and other criminals" "In eighteenth-century Britain, many female friends enjoyed intense relationships, which they celebrated in romantic terms. Some probably compensated for stiff and formal relations with parents by forging close bonds with same-sex friends. In one case, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby ran away from their families in Ireland to set up home together in Wales, where they would live in mutual harmony for more than fifty years. Known as the Ladies of Llangollen, they attracted visitors from far and wide who venerated their romantic story with never a hint that the friendship might be anything other than platonic" "The Georgians were not noted for their kindness to animals and children. Many children were forced to work in the mills, scale chimneys, beg on the streets or live by prostitution from the age of ten or less" "A vociferous campaign had been launched in the 1760s by Granville Sharp, a government clerk who published the first anti-slavery tract in 1767. Sharp went on to champion the cause of an escaped slave, James Somerset, who won his freedom in a landmark court case in 1772 when Lord Mansfield ruled that no slave on British soil could be forcibly returned to his master or deported. Although the ruling was widely regarded at the time as a complete ban on slavery in Britain, in fact it only meant that enslavement could not be enforced by law; it would be 1833 before the Abolition Act finally made the slave trade illegal" You will meet many other known persons from XVIII century. For example: Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Erasmus Darwin, Anna Seward, Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney. You will read about probably first attemps to reform education system. “In this school the understanding should be cultivated and exercised, without loading the memory; and the constant object should be, to excite the pupils to think and to apply their understandings to their conduct.” Unfortunately, many schools to this day teach like from middle-ages. A history of Sabrina and Day have been inspiration of next stories and books. "Sabrina’s story would continue to beguile novelists such as Henry James, with his racy 1871 novella Watch and Ward. His contemporary Anthony Trollope would tell a similar story about a young man who molds an orphan to become his wife as a central thread in his 1862 novel Orley Farm." And even "...Dick [other character of the book] would provide Jane Austen with the model for the “very troublesome, hopeless son,” Dick Musgrove, “who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead” in her novel Persuasion" This book is one big inspiration for everyone who reads it. Moral decisions, rational views, heart desires - all is mixed up. Like each of us, characters of the book fall and rise. We all live in own times and if someone want to judge us he must remember in what times we live, in what times lived Thomas Day and his perfect wife.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    (Rounding up from 3.5) A most peculiar and particular history of a well-connected and wealthy 18th century man who, influenced by Rousseau's EMILE, had dreams of grooming the perfect wife. As part of this dream, the man "adopted" two orphans from the Foundling Hospital as supposed apprentices and proceeded to mold them. I enjoyed parts of this book, especially where Sabrina's (the main foundling) and Thomas Day's story intersected with well-known contemporaries (Erasmus Darwin, Maria Edgeworth, t (Rounding up from 3.5) A most peculiar and particular history of a well-connected and wealthy 18th century man who, influenced by Rousseau's EMILE, had dreams of grooming the perfect wife. As part of this dream, the man "adopted" two orphans from the Foundling Hospital as supposed apprentices and proceeded to mold them. I enjoyed parts of this book, especially where Sabrina's (the main foundling) and Thomas Day's story intersected with well-known contemporaries (Erasmus Darwin, Maria Edgeworth, the Burneys, Ben Franklin), and where Moore traced the literary aftermath of the story in fiction. Moore's publisher has certainly figured out the marketing plan, with the book cover set to suck in all those Austen and Georgette Heyer lovers, but ultimately the story falls short of fictional treatments for several reasons: (1) the on-again, off-again experiment--the most interesting part of the book--only comes into play for an unexpectedly small percentage of it; (2) as a work of history, Moore is limited to her material--what this reader most wanted to know, how Sabrina and Day interacted and what they had to say to each other, could only be guessed at or inferred from mentions long after the fact; and, (3) the book is loaded with hard-to-love characters and detailed backstories. Having recently read the nonfiction UNNATURAL SELECTION by Mara Hvistendahl, detailing the current gender imbalance in parts of the world and its implications, I realized the male dream of finding the "perfect wife" lives on. Even now men in China import poor, uneducated Vietnamese brides, and some American men look for women around the world who will take on the housework, listen and obey--just as Day wanted his foundling to do. The kidnapping and exploitation continue. At least Day provided his victim with a heavy-duty education, I suppose. If you're looking for the historical equivalent of an Austen novel, this is not it. But if you love 18th century history and literature that intersects with an intriguing situation, you will find much to enjoy here. P.S. Having read a NetGalley ARC, I assume final tweaks can still be made to the manuscript. In "Sabrina and Lucretia" chapter, sentence "Passengers unerringly complained of feeling seasick" should probably be "Passengers INVARIABLY complained of feeling seasick." Further on in chapter, sentence beginning, "Naturally Day did not mention of [sic] the single most interesting aspect..." should be "Naturally Day did not MAKE mention of the single most interesting aspect." Also, I understand the rationale for giving each chapter female names, but sometimes they were a stretch: "Elizabeth," for example.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    In the 1760s, Thomas Day, rich oddball, decided to undertake an experiment--could he, using Rousseau's educational principles, create the perfect wife? It had already turned his friend Edgeworth's son into a feral toddler dictator, but the directors of the London Foundling Hospital were perfectly happy to let him sign out the 11 year old of his choice for extended tutoring, extremes in temperature, being shot at with an unloaded pistol, heavy housework, bizarre questions (do you want this rose, In the 1760s, Thomas Day, rich oddball, decided to undertake an experiment--could he, using Rousseau's educational principles, create the perfect wife? It had already turned his friend Edgeworth's son into a feral toddler dictator, but the directors of the London Foundling Hospital were perfectly happy to let him sign out the 11 year old of his choice for extended tutoring, extremes in temperature, being shot at with an unloaded pistol, heavy housework, bizarre questions (do you want this rose, or these diamond earrings?) and a lot of being talked at. Meanwhile, Day, Edgeworth and friends were at the center of 18th century intellectual life, with guest appearances by Erasmus Darwin, John Andre, John constable, Fanny and Charles Burney, the Lunar Men, Methodist abolitionists and Rousseau himself, who said it was a terrible idea. Moore painstakingly reconstructs this strange episode, especially the afterlife as it appeared as a favorite plot in books by Maria Edgeworth, Trollope, and eventually the pinnacle--Shaw's Pygmalion. An afterward detailing the research methods is very useful.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emmkay

    Misogynistic eighteenth-century intellectual Thomas Day decided after some romantic rejections that the only way to find the perfect woman (and nothing less would do!) was to train one himself to fulfill his exacting requirements. Hence he embarked on a scheme to get himself a nice young foundling and rear her according to his needs. His friends and acquaintances were aware of his enterprise, but the young woman herself initially remained in the dark. Initially, I thought the book would focus na Misogynistic eighteenth-century intellectual Thomas Day decided after some romantic rejections that the only way to find the perfect woman (and nothing less would do!) was to train one himself to fulfill his exacting requirements. Hence he embarked on a scheme to get himself a nice young foundling and rear her according to his needs. His friends and acquaintances were aware of his enterprise, but the young woman herself initially remained in the dark. Initially, I thought the book would focus narrowly on how the 'training' went, which could have got rather tedious, but Moore's book is more extensive than that, and she's found a fascinating group of people to follow. Really good!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    to gen up on. to find. to weigh up

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alger Smythe-Hopkins

    I am of two minds on this book, but the mind that decided that this book simply was not worth finishing won. The mind that wanted to keep reading is the one that enjoys this kind of "logical-positivism-run-amok" story. Essentially this is the story of an Enlightenment era natural philosopher who, under the are combination of logic and romanticism decides he will apply the principles of Rousseau to all aspects of his life, including how he will choose a wife. The interest is supposed to lie in Tho I am of two minds on this book, but the mind that decided that this book simply was not worth finishing won. The mind that wanted to keep reading is the one that enjoys this kind of "logical-positivism-run-amok" story. Essentially this is the story of an Enlightenment era natural philosopher who, under the are combination of logic and romanticism decides he will apply the principles of Rousseau to all aspects of his life, including how he will choose a wife. The interest is supposed to lie in Thomas Day's failure to recognize his hypocrisy, learn from his mistakes, and in this case, have a modern world view -ha ha silly boy. You were born two centuries too early not to be an ass. The mind that quit got fed up with the saturated and repetitive writing, and the obnoxiousness of Thomas Day. I finally gave up because I simply cannot tell how much of Day's nasty personality is an interpolation of Moore(and an accusation she never seems to tire of repeating endlessly), and how much is actually documented (because Moore never gives convincing proof that Day was more than an average privileged intellectual snob). The reason I am unsure about Day, and suspect Moore of bias is that Day seems to have had a wide and loyal entourage of servants, retainers, friends, intellectual peers, and associates. As Day matured he became politically active to free slaves and promote the liberty and dignity of all men. He may have had obnoxious habits and mannerisms, but this is an awful lot for a moral monster to accomplish were he entirely an ass. Then there is the premise of the book itself, which is a contradiction. For Day's experiments in raising a perfect wife to be the gossipy horror show that Moore keeps promising us it is, one needs to overlook that this was the high tide of English nobility. This age still recognized the lord as master and owner of his tenants, slavery and indentured servitude were accepted customs, and a lord could murder a commoner of his choice if the mood suited him without more than a slap on the wrist. In that context, Day's rather timid and hopeful attempts to elevate a commoner living in a foundling home and with no prospects to ladyship almost appears romantic and benign. Of course that this is a true story is creepy and repellent, but this was all taking place twenty years BEFORE our own paragon of logic, Thomas Jefferson, seduced a 14 year old Sally Hemings for the first time. Jefferson similarly raised Hemings from a girl, and then gave her six children all without the benefit of marriage (because she was his actual property) over two decades. Other English lords simply raped their tenants or attended whores. Day is almost a saint in comparison. Given the casual rape culture and general men's world of Georgian England, the premise that some wealthy and bored aristocrat spent decades trying to educate the perfect wife is almost charming in contrast and no more a horror show than an average day in London. A slow moving muddle of a book with an author who is trying too hard and no idea how to present the story she has to tell.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite Kaye

    Thomas Day is one of those subjects who make it very difficult to like a biography. In modern-day parlance, he was a groomer - or a potential groomer. Arrogant, opinionated, utterly self-centred, selfish, and at best misguided, he was, paradoxically, also philanthropic, generous, intelligent, erudite and literary. A product of his day, it would be wrong to call him misanthropic - or would it? Is it fair to say that every Georgian man had such a low opinion of women? I think it is, and in fact Da Thomas Day is one of those subjects who make it very difficult to like a biography. In modern-day parlance, he was a groomer - or a potential groomer. Arrogant, opinionated, utterly self-centred, selfish, and at best misguided, he was, paradoxically, also philanthropic, generous, intelligent, erudite and literary. A product of his day, it would be wrong to call him misanthropic - or would it? Is it fair to say that every Georgian man had such a low opinion of women? I think it is, and in fact Day didn't think women were unintelligent, or that they should lack opinions, he simply believed that their opinions should be the same as his own - or complementary to, if I'm being generous. In some ways - as his Lunar Society friends evidenced - his aim to create the perfect woman was ahead of his time - in terms of education at least, for he wanted her to be well-read (if not literate), able to expound on his favoured philosophies, and as philanthropic as himself. All with the caveat however, that she be directed by him, subservient to him in all and everything, and so, while he educated he also wished to subvert. Anyone should have been able to tell him that the two aims were incompatible, and it seems to me extraordinary that none did - or none are recorded as doing so - though Rousseau, his inspiration, was indeed appalled when he heard of Day's experiment. Thomas Day was loathsome. Reading about him made me fizz with anger, made my toes curl, made me cheer when his experiment went wrong at every turn, and made me wish, fervently wish, that he'd got his come-uppance. Sadly this is history and not fiction, and he never did, unless his premature death could be so classified, ironically caused by a horse personally ill-trained. Wendy Moore writes beautifully. She is much more well-balanced than I in her interpretation of Day's motivation, though what I really enjoyed were her little barbed asides, her lightly ironic tone, which made it clear, even while she was trying to present his 'doings' in a historical and therefore more kindly context, exactly what she thought of him. And her overarching theme, the continuing fascination of the Pygmalion/Galatea myth, gave me a lot of food for thought. I can't say I relished this book simply because I loathed Thomas Day, but it was thought-provoking, a very enjoyable read, and a real eye-opener in terms of 'educated' attitudes to women in Georgian times, which I must confess I found shocking, even though I'd have said I was pretty well-read on the subject. I have Jenny Uglow's history of the Lunar Men which I abandoned because the text was so small. Now I'm going to go back to it and try again, just to see what her take is on Day's appearance in their society. Wendy Moore writes excellent history. It's highly entertaining, brilliantly researched, contextual, and every single one of her books do what history should do, which is engage you emotionally. For good or bad, Thomas Day is a fascinating subject, and this book is much more than he deserves.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Well now, here's one I'm happily shelving with my many other books on eccentrics. Thomas Day was misguided, misanthropic, maladroit, and at times moronic, but I cannot dislike him as heartily as some other reviewers here do. I have to confess that he reminded me a bit of myself at age 12 or so, when I was quite certain that one day I would open the right book and find the answer to a question which I had not yet fully formulated but which nonetheless would be the ultimate ANSWER. And it would ma Well now, here's one I'm happily shelving with my many other books on eccentrics. Thomas Day was misguided, misanthropic, maladroit, and at times moronic, but I cannot dislike him as heartily as some other reviewers here do. I have to confess that he reminded me a bit of myself at age 12 or so, when I was quite certain that one day I would open the right book and find the answer to a question which I had not yet fully formulated but which nonetheless would be the ultimate ANSWER. And it would make me happy. Sound quixotic and foolish? You bet! But such fond but impossible wishes lurk in many a breast, though very few of us have the audacity to make them public. Thomas Day was looking for the ideal woman after being spurned by his first love. He turned, like any good bookish soul, for a solution in a book and lo! there it was in the pages of Rousseau. No matter that Rousseau's account was fictional and that no one had ever tried the method before. Day seized upon it and clung to it like a life preserver. That his method of training his two chosen subjects was underhanded, illegal, and heartless is another matter. The two foundlings he plucked from an orphanage underwent many trials and tribulations, recounted with great verve by the author. She, I might add, faces a similar dilemma as the one the reader does: can we completely and roundly condemn Thomas Day or do we find some small corner of our heart softening towards him? Well, I am obviously in the latter camp. I will not spoil the outcome of this tale for potential readers but I will make a disclaimer similar to the ones seen at the end of films featuring animals: No actual orphans were harmed during the conduct of this experiment. At the end, as readers will find, quite the contrary. I might also add that this book featured a cornucopia of famous characters, which was something I hadn't expected. Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), Benjamin Franklin, John Constable, Maria Edgeworth (author of Castle Rackrent, which I much enjoyed), Thomas Bentley & Josiah Wedgwood (the famed porcelain manufacturers), Fanny Burney, and the aforementioned Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As a social snapshot of the Age of Enlightenment, this is a most rewarding tome. And, to round out the surprises, the reader learns that Day's experiment echoed down through the years and was ultimately used as source material for several well-known writers, not the least of whom was George Bernard Shaw. Day's quest to mold the perfect woman clearly resonated even as it was being derided. Last but not least, this author can write. Hallelujah! In clear prose that steers away from sermonizing, demonizing, patronizing, or ridiculing, Wendy Moore gives us the background needed to understand the motives of Day and his circle, and the times they inhabited. A cracking good read!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    How To Create the Perfect Wife was a fascinating read, fascinating in a despicable way, I suppose. Most readers will probably not enjoy getting to know the "hero", Thomas Day. Who was Thomas Day? He was well-known several centuries ago. He lived and wrote during the reign of George III. He wrote two books for children: The History of Sandford and Merton and The History of Little Jack. Writing for children was definitely a new phenomenon. He also co-wrote a best-selling abolitionist poem called "T How To Create the Perfect Wife was a fascinating read, fascinating in a despicable way, I suppose. Most readers will probably not enjoy getting to know the "hero", Thomas Day. Who was Thomas Day? He was well-known several centuries ago. He lived and wrote during the reign of George III. He wrote two books for children: The History of Sandford and Merton and The History of Little Jack. Writing for children was definitely a new phenomenon. He also co-wrote a best-selling abolitionist poem called "The Dying Negro." The focus of How To Create The Perfect Wife is not on Thomas Day's writing career. The focus is on the man's eccentricities. Day was a bit OBSESSED with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It wasn't just that Emile was his most-favorite book. He was determined to live-out the philosophy, to run experiments on human subjects. His love life was a big mess, a complete failure. Why couldn't he find a wife? a good wife? a perfect wife? Society was to blame. He couldn't find an untainted woman free from contamination with the world, with society. He couldn't find a woman who shunned fashion, music, dance, art, good conversation. He wanted a brilliant wife who loved to listen, was willing to listen, obey, and serve. He wanted to be worshiped, and obeyed. Since there wasn't an eligible woman ready and willing to marry him now, the solution was simple. He would look for a young girl, a trainable child, one whom he could raise according to Rousseau's principles and philosophy, one whose training and upbringing he could control almost from start to finish. (I think he picked an eleven year old and a twelve year old?) He picked TWO girls and put them in competition with each other. Though of course neither girl knew they were an experiment, that they were being trained to be one man's notion of the perfect wife. After a year, he chose one girl to continue on... The focus of the book is just as much on the one girl, Sabrina.... I won't tell you if Day's experiment is a success...and if he ever married.... I enjoyed reading How to Create The Perfect Wife because of the glimpse into the culture and society. I enjoyed meeting Day's friends the best. He kept surprisingly good company: Richard Lovell Edgeworth (father of Maria Edgeworth), Erasmus Darwin, and Anna Seward. Sabrina also became quite close to the Burney family: Charles Burney, Frances Burney, Sarah Burney. The book discusses Ovid's Metamorphoses and George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912). The myth was very popular in the 18th century. It inspired many operas and melodramas, including one by Rousseau. Thomas Day's experiment inspired many novelists including Anthony Trollope (Orley Farm), Henry James (Watch and Ward), Maria Edgeworth (Belinda).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anna Kļaviņa

    Thomas Day (1748-1789) was a lawyer, abolitionist and author. His first published work, a poem The Dying Negro (1773), co written with his friend John Bicknell was one of the first pieces of literature that attacked slavery and encouraged by his friend Richard Lovell Edgeworth he wrote The History of Sandford and Merton (1783-1789) one of the first books for children. Sandford and Merton was a huge bestseller and unsurprisingly it was read by such writers as Charles Dickens, Robert Southey, Leig Thomas Day (1748-1789) was a lawyer, abolitionist and author. His first published work, a poem The Dying Negro (1773), co written with his friend John Bicknell was one of the first pieces of literature that attacked slavery and encouraged by his friend Richard Lovell Edgeworth he wrote The History of Sandford and Merton (1783-1789) one of the first books for children. Sandford and Merton was a huge bestseller and unsurprisingly it was read by such writers as Charles Dickens, Robert Southey, Leigh Hunt, Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse. While his closest friends knew of Day's experiment and wish to create a perfect wife for himself the public learned about it only after his death. Moore tells this unusual story in objective and nonjudgmental voice. I can highly recommend this book for these who are looking for interesting and well written history/biography. Few books that were inspired by Day's quest: Watch and Ward Belinda Orley Farm Pygmalion

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lunger

    Wendy Moore's "How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor & his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate" is a scarily true story of Thomas Day a late 18th century Englishman who decides that the perfect woman doesn't exist for him. His solution is to simply create one by controlling a girl so much so that she has no choice but to be the perfect mate for him. His choices are 2 girls from the same orphanage who he raises until the age of 12 & then decides which one he wan Wendy Moore's "How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor & his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate" is a scarily true story of Thomas Day a late 18th century Englishman who decides that the perfect woman doesn't exist for him. His solution is to simply create one by controlling a girl so much so that she has no choice but to be the perfect mate for him. His choices are 2 girls from the same orphanage who he raises until the age of 12 & then decides which one he wants to be his wife & sends the other off packing. Scarier still is when he falls in love with the original one he didn't choose & has to find a way to make her his wife. Moore's book while being fascinating at times is also almost unreadable because of the detail & how very easily he manipulated these individuals. The story of Thomas Day is almost a cross between Frankenstein & a case of a bad psychology experiment gone wrong. The book itself also hurts itself by going into detail about the lives of these 2 women after Day passes away which probably should've been summarized & kept shorter than it was. Scheduled for release in April, this book probably belongs in the genre of Psychology or the social sciences rather than history & is one I only recommend for people with an average understanding of psychology & not for anyone in the history realm or otherwise. Definitely a skip for the casual reader & not a book I'd re-read anytime soon.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    This is one of those true life stories that is both repulsive and compelling at the same time. The story of Thomas Day and his quest for the perfect wife is very well researched by the author, who uses many letters and other primary source materials to round out the story. She seems to have acquainted herself in great depth with Day and his friends and associates and is very astute in spotting sarcasm, self deprecation, and gossipy tongues out to cause trouble as, over the years Day and his fri This is one of those true life stories that is both repulsive and compelling at the same time. The story of Thomas Day and his quest for the perfect wife is very well researched by the author, who uses many letters and other primary source materials to round out the story. She seems to have acquainted herself in great depth with Day and his friends and associates and is very astute in spotting sarcasm, self deprecation, and gossipy tongues out to cause trouble as, over the years Day and his friends write to each other, publish, and go about the business of their lives. It's easy to dislike Day for his arrogance, sense of entitlement, and his experiment with human lives. That he and his circle of friends were also such a literary group is what allowed this story to survive with as many details as the author was able to cull from her research. And this is what makes it so fascinating. Thomas Day's life and project inspired more than a few fictional re-tellings of his story. I think that in the right novelist's hands (thinking Emma Donoghue) it would make a fascinating contemporary novel.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jen Well-Steered

    What I liked about it: This is another treasure, a well-told, rollicking tale of a rich twit who becomes enamoured of an idea and refuses to let go of it even when it becomes apparent that it isn't working. But I suppose that was a function of Day's odious personality. Did I mention that a part of his eccentricity was that he rejected all social graces, preferring instead to embark on long monologues about his theories, and that he refused to dress fashionably in a wig, but also didn't wash his What I liked about it: This is another treasure, a well-told, rollicking tale of a rich twit who becomes enamoured of an idea and refuses to let go of it even when it becomes apparent that it isn't working. But I suppose that was a function of Day's odious personality. Did I mention that a part of his eccentricity was that he rejected all social graces, preferring instead to embark on long monologues about his theories, and that he refused to dress fashionably in a wig, but also didn't wash his hair? He wasn't all bad, he was an early abolitionist and supported American independence. And he had influential friends who never renounced him. Still it is satisfactory when Day gets his comeuppance when one of the many women he attempts to woo throws his ideas back on him. How can he reject society, she reasons, if he has never become a proper member of it? So he spends a year learning to dance and fence and dress like a gentleman, only to end up looking more ridiculous than when he started. What I didn't like about it: This is another flawless book, a fascinating story that's well-told. No complaints from me. http://omnibrowbooks.blogspot.com

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Just how "enlightened" was the 18th-century English gentleman and Rousseau-devote Thomas Day? His money and his intellect opened doors to English society and to the company of the extraordinary circle of gentlemen scientists known as the Lunar Men. He believed so fervently in Rousseau's love of "nature" that his personal hygene appalled women and men alike. His progressive beliefs made him one of the most prominent anti-slavery advocates of the late 18th century. Yet he essentially stole two ado Just how "enlightened" was the 18th-century English gentleman and Rousseau-devote Thomas Day? His money and his intellect opened doors to English society and to the company of the extraordinary circle of gentlemen scientists known as the Lunar Men. He believed so fervently in Rousseau's love of "nature" that his personal hygene appalled women and men alike. His progressive beliefs made him one of the most prominent anti-slavery advocates of the late 18th century. Yet he essentially stole two adolescent girls from an orphanage, secretly keeping them prisoner while he raised them according to his precepts of strength and goodness developed from exposure to the hardships of nature. Among his techniques were firing a pistol at one of the girls' skirts and dripping hot wax on her bare arms to see if she had the fortitude to be his wife. Human rights applied to everyone except women.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Huston

    A wild look at the Enlightenment in England, through the experiments of Thomas Day, a man who was uncultured, rude and dishevelled who truly believed that women were inferior and took Rousseau much too seriously. This one was eye-opening, and very funny to read at times. Well-written, surprising and worth the time to find this one. Four stars overall and recommended. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Wendy_... A wild look at the Enlightenment in England, through the experiments of Thomas Day, a man who was uncultured, rude and dishevelled who truly believed that women were inferior and took Rousseau much too seriously. This one was eye-opening, and very funny to read at times. Well-written, surprising and worth the time to find this one. Four stars overall and recommended. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Wendy_...

  20. 4 out of 5

    AdiTurbo

    DNF. Very well-researched, I'm sure, but the result is too many unnecessary details that cloud and slow down the story. The main character, a young academic who may be great at philosophy but truly sucks at life and knows absolutely nothing about people, is unbearably annoying. You want to just slap him into reality. I really couldn't bear reading any more about him, and learn how successful he was in his plan to create the perfect woman for him, which meant getting his hands on a young girl by DNF. Very well-researched, I'm sure, but the result is too many unnecessary details that cloud and slow down the story. The main character, a young academic who may be great at philosophy but truly sucks at life and knows absolutely nothing about people, is unbearably annoying. You want to just slap him into reality. I really couldn't bear reading any more about him, and learn how successful he was in his plan to create the perfect woman for him, which meant getting his hands on a young girl by deceit, and trying to turn her into an obedient, mindless slave. Too disgusting for me, thanks.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Rocked my literary/historical world. I need all of my 18th/19th c studies friends to read this so we can discuss. My mind is blown. Absolutely loved it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    I found it difficult to read this piece because Day was so difficult to like, and—though the book is well constructed and engaging in places—I found Moore heavy-handed reminding me how horrible he was. Once he conveniently dies, the end of the story focuses on Sabrina’s life, and is a delight. Otherwise, the book sketches out some great characters and yields a lot of information about social order and education theory in 18th century Britain. Entirely worthwhile.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Thomas Day was a poet, an abolitionist (I’ve taught the poem he wrote with BIcknell, “The Dying Negro,” to classes before), and a wealthy eccentric—he was also a misogynist and a control freak. Bad combination for any woman unlucky enough to come into his orbit. The research Moore did to track down the details of this story is impressive, but I wish her writing style was a bit less loose and chatty. It would have been nice to have some thoughtful cultural analysis of this story instead of just an Thomas Day was a poet, an abolitionist (I’ve taught the poem he wrote with BIcknell, “The Dying Negro,” to classes before), and a wealthy eccentric—he was also a misogynist and a control freak. Bad combination for any woman unlucky enough to come into his orbit. The research Moore did to track down the details of this story is impressive, but I wish her writing style was a bit less loose and chatty. It would have been nice to have some thoughtful cultural analysis of this story instead of just an almost-novelistic narrative.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Danielle W

    I absolutely did not expect this to pull on my heartstrings so much. It took me a while to read this between my busy schedule and how much information there was to take in. This book is packed with not only the barebones story but an incredible amount of biographical and anecdotal information on nearly every other person to be remotely involved in the events. This was really well-researched and the narration was snarky and interesting. It was near the end when I got really emotionally involved. I absolutely did not expect this to pull on my heartstrings so much. It took me a while to read this between my busy schedule and how much information there was to take in. This book is packed with not only the barebones story but an incredible amount of biographical and anecdotal information on nearly every other person to be remotely involved in the events. This was really well-researched and the narration was snarky and interesting. It was near the end when I got really emotionally involved. Moore did what I hadn’t expected, which was to make me care about so many of these people but particularly Sabrina. In fact, I think that’s what was done best. I went into this book thinking it was about Day and his craziness and all along it was about Sabrina.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    A nonfiction book about the true story of Thomas Day, an 18th century lawyer/philosopher/poet/generally useless dude, who was repeatedly disappointed in love and came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t him, but that no woman he’d ever known met his high standards. Since his ideal married life involved living in a rural cottage with no social contacts, bathing, modern conveniences, or other distractions from “virtue”, I'm unsurprised that he had difficulty finding a woman to agree to this. A nonfiction book about the true story of Thomas Day, an 18th century lawyer/philosopher/poet/generally useless dude, who was repeatedly disappointed in love and came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t him, but that no woman he’d ever known met his high standards. Since his ideal married life involved living in a rural cottage with no social contacts, bathing, modern conveniences, or other distractions from “virtue”, I'm unsurprised that he had difficulty finding a woman to agree to this. Inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel “Emilie” (a novel about raising the perfect child by teaching them to fend for themselves in the forest, and not really intended to be taken as a education manual), Day decided that the only way to find his perfect wife would be to create her himself. He therefore acquired two young girls from an orphanage (got to have a backup in case the first turned out less than perfect, see), spirited them over to France where they would be isolated from all help due to not speaking the language, and proceeded to subject them to a years-long experiment in schooling, frugal clothing, submissive behavior, and training in fortitude that extended to spilling hot wax on their bare skin or shooting at them with unloaded guns. It’s a story that is so crazy it almost doesn’t matter how good of a writer Moore is – the subject matter is so compelling that provides all the tension and interest on its own. She is a very good writer, though, as well as a researcher. I was particularly impressed by her efforts to reconstruct the lives of the two girls before and after they lived with Day, a subject that had all but faded out of the historical record and often been allowed to remain in obscurity. She also does an excellent job of connecting this story to larger historical currents – the role of orphanages in 18th century London, the philosophical debate on how best to raise children, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s exile from France and journeys across Europe, Enlightenment philosophy, Day’s participation in the anti-slavery movement and the American Revolution (he was a prominent progressive, despite his obvious lack of interest in women’s rights), and Day’s friendships with other important historical figures such as Anna Seward (a poet and important letter-writer) and Erasmus Darwin (a natural philosopher and leader of a group of scientists and industrialists). She also points out that Day’s experiment was likely at least part of the inspiration behind ‘My Fair Lady’, as well as several other similar novels of the 19th century. The book becomes a bit less interesting after the girls separate from Day, though that’s not Moore’s fault; what could she do when the truth simply becomes less balls-out insane? But even if every chapter isn’t quite as great as the premise makes it sound, the early parts are beyond compelling, and the background details of women’s lives in Georgian England make for a satisfying read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This book is a perfect example of truth being stranger than fiction. I can see why so many novelists ended up using parts of this crazy experiment in their books. I mean, it's a story that just begs to be told. Wendy Moore does a good job taking her exhaustive research and fashioning it into an entertaining, readable book. Sometimes she can be a bit too twenty-first century in her critique of Thomas Day's behavior. On the whole, however, Moore manages to set the behavior of the main characters i This book is a perfect example of truth being stranger than fiction. I can see why so many novelists ended up using parts of this crazy experiment in their books. I mean, it's a story that just begs to be told. Wendy Moore does a good job taking her exhaustive research and fashioning it into an entertaining, readable book. Sometimes she can be a bit too twenty-first century in her critique of Thomas Day's behavior. On the whole, however, Moore manages to set the behavior of the main characters into the period they lived in. I am surprised that she managed to not mention autism/asperger syndrome a single time when describing Day. I mean, the poor guy simply screams autistic spectrum. The intellect obsessively focused on certain things, the inability to read social cues, the lack of empathy, the dislike of change/fondness for routine, his one-sided conversations/monologues told in an affectless voice while being unable to realize others are bored, his unusual posture, his aversion to crowds/noises - Thomas Day was a textbook example of aspergers. It certainly explains a lot why he thought his idea of adopting girls and training them to be the perfect wife was a fine idea. I wish there had been more about Sabrina, the girl he ended up keeping after dismissing Lucretia, the other girl, for being "invincibly stupid". I understand that the resources weren't really there for Moore to find and use. It's a lot easier to track Day's life and his male friend's lives. I kept thinking what a good novel it would be, to tell the story from Sabrina's POV. Parts of it were very Jane Eyre. I was truly surprised at who she ended up marrying. Straight out of fiction but it was the truth. So interesting! This is a worthwhile book to read if you enjoy reading about 18th century Europe, women's right's, the early scientific community, educational reform or if you just want to read a book that makes you exclaim "what the....!" out loud every chapter or so.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mythili

    Thomas Day liked to quote a line from a poem titled “Advice to the Ladies”: “Wit like wine intoxicates the brain/Too strong for feeble women to sustain.” A great benefactor to the poor and a vocal champion of the American Revolution, Day wrote passionate diatribes about the need to free African slaves and lobbied to expand voting rights to include men of all classes. But where women were concerned, Day’s views were far less progressive. It seems only fitting that after his death, Day’s eccentric Thomas Day liked to quote a line from a poem titled “Advice to the Ladies”: “Wit like wine intoxicates the brain/Too strong for feeble women to sustain.” A great benefactor to the poor and a vocal champion of the American Revolution, Day wrote passionate diatribes about the need to free African slaves and lobbied to expand voting rights to include men of all classes. But where women were concerned, Day’s views were far less progressive. It seems only fitting that after his death, Day’s eccentric life story has been most vividly recounted by a series of women: first, by Anna Seward, a friend and contemporary; then by Maria Edgeworth, a celebrated novelist (and the daughter of Day’s best friend, Richard Edgeworth); and, most recently, biographer Wendy Moore. In How to Create the Perfect Wife, Moore retells the story of Day’s attempt to fashion the ideal bride out one of two 12-year-old orphans he took in as “maid apprentices” from London’s Foundling Hospital. In the places where historical documentation falls short, Moore turns the gaps into opportunities to revel in the lurid injustice of Sabrina’s fate. Here, she follows a long tradition of writers. Henry James reshaped Day’s story for his first novel, Watch and Ward; Maria Edgeworth featured characters based on Day and Sabrina in her famous novel Belinda; Fanny Burney and Anthony Trollope riffed on the story too. These fictional renditions are largely love stories. Moore’s research suggests the real-life Sabrina got by not on love but on reserves of inner strength and dignity. If Day’s experiments shaped her, it was certainly not in the way he intended. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I had no idea about Sabrina Sidney despite having read several books based on her life. It was a surprise to find she was a real life inspiration for Eliza Doolittle, only Sabrina had her life repeatedly re-shaped in a far more extreme form. I had heard of the Lunaticks Club because of Boulton and Erasmus Darwin, but I had no idea that accepted amongst its famous members was any one like Thomas Day, someone whose wealth and position seemingly protected him throughout this bizarre and deeply unet I had no idea about Sabrina Sidney despite having read several books based on her life. It was a surprise to find she was a real life inspiration for Eliza Doolittle, only Sabrina had her life repeatedly re-shaped in a far more extreme form. I had heard of the Lunaticks Club because of Boulton and Erasmus Darwin, but I had no idea that accepted amongst its famous members was any one like Thomas Day, someone whose wealth and position seemingly protected him throughout this bizarre and deeply unethical experiment. Those around him not only allowed, but assisted him in fraudulently abducting orphans and then carrying out an experiment to create a wife who could meet his exacting fantasies. It's hard to understand what really drove him as his actions are so unlikely. It's also hard to tell whether there was more to the relationship which has never come out, with friends protecting either Day himself, or Sabrina Sidney. It says a lot about the period that several women actually felt Day was an attractive potential spouse. He is full of contradictions, passionately anti-slavery but determined to find a wife who submits to his whims in everything and devotes herself body and soul only to his ideal and of a life lived in Spartan isolation, completely off from Society. Although he only intended his wife to live in such isolation. Sabrina comes across as resilient in the face of a life with few choices and hard ones at that. Ultimately it was a life shaped by the actions of the men around her. I wish there was more information on her life and the destruction of much of Day's correspondence is tantalising, but I'm glad the author didn't run away with speculations on what might have happened to fill in the gaps.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cyndi

    I am reminded of what a speaker said to a group of single people about marriage. If they were waiting to find the perfect person and did, why would they want to marry them. A funny way of saying that none of us is perfect but that is exactly what Thomas Day, wanted in the perfect wife - as he envisioned her. She would be frugal, disdain any worldly pleasures and only live to please and bend to Day's every wish. They would be perfectly compatible in spirit and thought as long it was Day's thought I am reminded of what a speaker said to a group of single people about marriage. If they were waiting to find the perfect person and did, why would they want to marry them. A funny way of saying that none of us is perfect but that is exactly what Thomas Day, wanted in the perfect wife - as he envisioned her. She would be frugal, disdain any worldly pleasures and only live to please and bend to Day's every wish. They would be perfectly compatible in spirit and thought as long it was Day's thoughts. The only thing I could see going for Day was his inherited money from his deceased father. He comes up with the idea of raising the perfect wife so he gains control of two orphaned girls under less than legal means and maps out a queer education. He isolates the girls so they can't be influenced by the world and subjects them to weird tests. Not surprising, when he finally did marry - and I won't tell you to whom - he had a few problems in his marriage, though none were his fault. I couldn't conceive of a more pompous, hypocritical or arrogant person and he definitely had mommy issues. So interesting. Wendy Moore did an excellent job of researching and bringing the characters to life. She was very clear on what was factual and what was rumored. She did not paint Day as an evil person, just a little demented. She described many of the charitable acts by Day though balancing that with the fact that he always expected something from his charity. It sort of negates the act and he was not always charitable to those he should have been.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This is a fascinating, well-researched book. It sometimes gets bogged down in unnecessary levels of detail, but I'd still recommend it for anyone interested in the subject or time period. Thomas Day wanted a beautiful, intelligent, educated, brave, strong wife who was willing to live alone with him in some simple, isolated cottage. He realized pretty quickly that it would be difficult to find all those traits in a woman who'd be submissive enough to suit him, so he picked up a couple of foundling This is a fascinating, well-researched book. It sometimes gets bogged down in unnecessary levels of detail, but I'd still recommend it for anyone interested in the subject or time period. Thomas Day wanted a beautiful, intelligent, educated, brave, strong wife who was willing to live alone with him in some simple, isolated cottage. He realized pretty quickly that it would be difficult to find all those traits in a woman who'd be submissive enough to suit him, so he picked up a couple of foundling girls to train as potential brides. The main focus is on Day's life and his marriage plans, but I was happy to see that the author didn't just treat the girls as appendages to Day's strange story.

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