How to Create the Perfect Wife

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-04-09
  • Publisher: Basic Books

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In How to Create the Perfect Wife, prize-winning historian Wendy Moore tells the extraordinary true story of one man's 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 children's 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 Wifetells 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 Wifealso explores changing ideas in education, the role of women in 18th century society, and the widespread influence of the Enlightenment's revolutionary ideals. Based on meticulous research in archives and contemporary accounts and written with Moore's journalistic eye for narrative and detail, How to Create the Perfect Wifeis an engrossing tale of the radicalism--and deep contradictions--at the heart of the Enlightenment.

Author Biography

Wendy Moore is a journalist and author of several previous books, including How to Create the Perfect Wife and Wedlock, a Sunday Times bestseller. Her writing has appeared in the Times, the Guardian, the Observer, and the Sunday Telegraph. She lives in London.

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