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How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britains Most Ineligible Bachelor and his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate Hardcover – April 9, 2013
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[Moore’s] book reads at times like a historical novel. Yet it is underpinned by meticulous research, and raises a host of questions about eighteenth-century attitudes toward women, love, and power, both personal and political.... Her account is particularly valuable and touching in the light it sheds on the background of the girls before they entered Day’s orbit, and on Sabrina’s life after she left it. For the first time, thanks to diligent research in the archives of the Foundling Hospital in London, the two girls are identified.”
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire
Only Wendy Moore has the genius to find and bring to glorious life the hidden histories, the personal follies, and very human desires of our 18th-century ancestors. How to Create the Perfect Wife is a perfect read.”
Origins: Currents Events in Historical Perspective
Impressively researchedand by turns hilarious and heartbreakingMoore’s book offers a wild ride through Enlightenment society by asking one simple question: what made Day’s unusual path to matrimony a viable option for a perennial bachelor in eighteenth-century Britain?... [An] impressive, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining work.... Moore’s able storytelling combined with Day’s bizarre quest to create his ideal woman make How to Create the Perfect Wife, apart from all its other virtues, a page-turner of the first order.”
Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
In this riveting tale of Enlightenment theory gone haywire, Wendy Moore offers an unforgettable portrait of Rousseau’s most deranged 18th-century acolyte (Robespierre included!). With exemplary research and tremendous wit, she offers an invaluable, if utterly disturbing, cautionary tale about the uses and abuses of the philosophes’ putatively progressive thought.”
New York Times Book Review
Moore’s extraordinary subject is the compellingly repellent historical figure Thomas Day.... The story of Day’s attempt to create his perfect wife...is both chilling and uncomfortably absorbing.... [A] skillfully narrated story.”
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
However thick the mists into which Day and his book disappeared many ages ago, he was a certifiable piece of work, and Moore has performed a service of sorts by bringing him to our attention. Moore, a British freelance journalist with an interest in the oddities of her country’s history (of which there are many) and especially those of the 18th century is a sedulous researcher and an agreeable prose stylist.”
Wall Street Journal
One of Ms. Moore’s greatest strengths is her ability to flip our sympathies. Day appears at different times as comical, odious or naïve. Day worshiped Virtuebut, Ms. Moore reveals in a bit of nifty detective work, he lied and flouted the law to gain possession of the two girls . Sabrina lived to a ripe old agemore than twice as long as Daybut she never wanted to talk about my checker’d & adventurous history.’ Wendy Moore has done a brilliant job of unearthing it.”
The New Yorker
This fascinating account of the life of Thomas Day, better known as a poet and anti-slavery campaigner, chronicles his misguided attempts to find the ideal woman.”
The Pygmalion-gone-wrong story of a man who adopted two orphans in hopes of making one his wife is bizarre, true, and thoroughly compelling, touching on the folly of uncritically embracing extreme parenting methods, the futility of trying to force someone to be who you want, and the danger of philosophy when wielded by young men who don’t understand it.”
The New Republic
"[An] excellent new book... Its tone is dry and amused, and the author's approach to her subject is ironic. Even her subtitle...has a certain sting. And the story she tells is simply astonishing.... Her understated comic style is actually perfect for the material.... The picture of Day is so expertly drawn and so withering without being heavy-handed, that it manages to count as a form of moral condemnation."
Cord Jefferson, NPR
How to Create the Perfect Wife is adroitly written, making the book at times feel less like a history tome and more like a novel . Moore’s deeply thorough research yields new surprises at every turn.”
[A] transfixing new book . How to Create the Perfect Wife, as delectable as any good novel, is also the best remedy for wrongs done long ago. It takes a girl who was plucked from obscurity to become an experiment, a paragon, a symbol and a legend, and it has made her a person once more.”
[An] extraordinarily strange and entertaining book . Moore’s acerbic dissection of Day’s hypocrisy and the surprising unfolding of the story make this a lively, compelling read.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Moore’s narrative brilliantly delineates the political and intellectual forces that shaped and nurtured Day, a heady and deeply contradictory blend of Romanticism, empiricism and radicalism. Day himself emerges as a rounded and not entirely unsympathetic character; his friends and detractors are depicted with equal liveliness . Fascinating.”
The Daily Beast
How could Day himself remain blind to his hypocrisy? And why did none of his friends stop him? That’s a difficult question, and in the places where historical documentation falls short, Moore turns the gaps into opportunities to revel in the lurid injustice of Sabrina’s fate.... 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.”
Moore’s witty and well researched How To Create the Perfect Wife tells the absorbing story of Day, his unknowing subjects, and his circle of friends, all with their own sets of peccadilloes.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Enlightenment ideals become weapons in the battle of the sexes in this riotous saga of ill-starred romance . 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.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
A darkly enlightening talethoroughly researched, gracefully writtenabout Enlightenment thought, male arrogance and the magic of successful matrimony.”
Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal, Top 10 Books of 2013
Perhaps the oddest title on our list, this true story won me over completely, despite my misgivings..... No spoilers here, but the tale of how [Thomas Day’s] plan unfolds reveals heartbreaking details of child rearing and treatment of the poor in a Britain that is thankfully bygone.”
Library Journal, Starred Review
This is a seductive book. Readers will be captivated as the tale unfolds, marveling at the many layers of meaning and historical significance that London journalist Moore has woven together through painstaking archival research.”
Andrea Wulf, The Guardian
As in her previous book Moore has again found an excruciatingly gruesome and fascinating story. But instead of turning these portraits into misery biographies, she weaves them into the broader context of the time . In How to Create the Perfect Wife, she investigates education, liberty and the role of women. It is pleasing to see a writer bringing together painstaking research with gripping storytelling. I can’t wait for her next book.”
A darkly amusing tale about the struggle to create the perfect wife . This story is told with gusto.”
Wall Street Journal
"With the entire affair now safely in the distant past, readers can make judgments on Day's story for themselves. Ms. Moore has done an especially fine job of tracking Sabrina in archives and across England, even locating her previously unrecognized grave. How to Create the Perfect Wife is to be relished by those who enjoy slices of 18th-century life. It should, however, be read as a cautionary tale by anyone thinking of embarking on, say, a radical program of home schooling."
"Compelling and meticulously researched.... [Moore] evokes a period of contradictions, in which an abolitionist (as Day was) could '[purchase] two girls ... as he might buy shoe buckles.'"
This engaging account will appeal to a diverse audience, including Enlightenment philosophy students and Jane Austen fans. Day is ludicrous, insufferable, arrogant and utterly engrossing . The narrative pulses forward briskly, moving between Day’s story and those of the orphan girls. Drawing on detailed personal accounts, Moore creates suspense and surprise in a manner rarely achieved in biographies. An unusual and unusually fascinating story.”
Sunday Times (London)
What is so intriguing about this rollicking and well-researched book is just how confoundingly, detestably hypocritical [Moore’s] central character is . This is a sordid tale, splendidly told . [An] enthralling history.”
Mail on Sunday
In this enthralling, brilliantly researched book, Wendy Moore has uncovered a story so weird that you have to keep reminding yourself that it actually happened . Moore has found an extraordinary story and tells it very well indeed. Far from writing a horrible history’ shocker, she does a good job of explaining why Day truly thought he was undertaking an experiment for the good of humanity.”
Sunday Herald (Glasgow)
[A] mesmerizing account . Moore has a captivating story to tell, which she conveys with the pace and ingenuity of a novelist . What in less skilled hands could have been another misery biography is a paean to the obstinacy of the human spirit.”
Scotland on Sunday
Moore’s history is beautifully told and researched all credit to her for discovering the real origins of Sabrina and Lucretia, when so many declared there were no such records of these girls, and for telling as much of their incredible story as she has.”
The Times (London)
With gusto and glee Wendy Moore takes on the paradoxes of the Age of Reason’ and the tyranny of public probity and private morality.”
Wendy Moore has very successfully secured a self-made niche in writing popular, witty and yet incisive books on the more recherché aspects of 18th century culture, often demonstrating how the most peculiar and almost unbelievable stories inform not just the everyday culture of the period, but our own as well . Moore manages to balance the narrative precisely, neither bridling with condemnation nor glossing over the more barbaric and melancholy results . The overall result is a book which is both comical and horrific.... This is the best kind of non-fiction, the kind that reads like a novel and yet couldn’t be made up.”
"Moore is under no illusions about the desirability of her hero and tells his story with a wry wit that makes him engaging even as his audacity, arrogance and egotism send your jaw hurtling to the floor."
Well-researched . Moore uncovers for the first time the full story of Sabrina, and it is to the original Eliza Doolittle that this book belongs.”
Wendy Moore likes odd subjects...The subject of her latest is equally bizarre, a sort of double biography; of an 18th century sociopath, Thomas Day, and of the orphans he illegally acquired, to groom one for his future wife. But aside from its dark content, the plotline is a comedy of manners gone right off the rails, lit by flashes of sardonic authorial wit.”
Scotland on Sunday
"The best kind of non-fiction, the kind that reads like a novel and yet couldn't be made up."
Well-researched . Moore uncovers for the first time the full story of Sabrina, and it is to the original Eliza Doolittle that this book belongs.”
Moore tells a good story.... As a champion of the lost she finds her own most authentic and compelling voice.”
[Moore] has done an exceptional job of tracking Sabrina through the records and produced a cheerful, lively version of her tale.”
Mail on Sunday, YOU Magazine
A true Pygmalion-style story set in Georgian England.”
Author and historian Wendy Moore writes with a novelist’s flair and fluidity. She is tough but fair to Day; though his ideas about women were clearly dangerous, he was a fine writer, a loyal if blustery friend and an early supporter of the abolition of slavery.”
Top Customer Reviews
Thomas Day was inspired by Jean-Jacques Rosseau's work Emile (or On Education) published in 1762, which asserted that every child is born with an innate goodness, but is corrupted by society and it's constraints (religion, education, etc.). The work was highly controversial, and was banned in Paris that same year. Day decided to take this work and apply its principals to a real life situation (the book is a fictional experiment in which a child is raised in a completely natural and unschooled manner). Day managed to coerce a good friend, John Bicknell, to help him obtain not one, but two "apprentices" under false pretenses from an English orphanage. These two young women, renamed Sabrina and Lucretia for Day's own purposes. As orphanages during the Georgian era were bursting with children so many poor of the population had given up, unable to care for them, few questions were asked (although records were kept). Day's tightly knit circle of eccentric friends were supportive and willing to help him in his bizarre endeavors, no single person cited in this book seemed to question what Day was doing, except Rosseau himself.Read more ›
Day was a follower of Rousseau's educational ideas as they appeared in Emile, the story of a boy whose education is "natural" and unhindered by schools or books. (Rousseau himself was appalled by how literally so many people took his ideas and repudiated them.) Education of girls according to Rousseau was about being subservient yet intelligent, well-read yet compliant - and this was the model that Day tried to create for his own wife-to-be.
Moore has the skill to do far more than tell the story of this one man; we also learn about the young women he attempted to mould and not least she offers a portrait of a place and time whose influences reverberate to this day.
Although the book is meticulously researched, the references never overwhelm the narrative which is flowing, intelligent and warm.
Even if you have little interest in history or education, the story of this odd man and those young women is a fascinating one.
'Day wanted a life-long partner who would be just as clever, well-read and witty as his brilliant male friends. He craved a lover with whom he could discourse on politics, philosophy and literature as freely as he could in male company. He desired a companion who would be physically as tough as he was...For all his apparently egalitarian views on education, Day wanted his future spouse to suppress her natural intelligence and subvert her acquired learning in deference to his views and desires...She would regard Day as her master, her teacher and her superior.'
Not surprisingly, his two early attachments to wealthy young ladies were both terminated (by them.) Day then conceived a plot: he would abduct two twelve year old girls from an orphanage and train them up for the position of wife - the better of the two would be selected. One blonde and one auburn came to live under his care; he provided academic learning, expected them to perform all household duties and even tried to 'toughen them up' by firing pistols nearby and dropping hot wax on their shoulders. Following the teachings of his idol, Rousseau, Day sought a perfectly natural and unspoilt woman.
How his experiment succeeded is told in this immensely readable work, in which other notable persons of the era such as Maria Edgeworth and John Constable also feature. If this happened today, it would be on the front page of the Sunday papers!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Paul L.
I am still reading this book. I would have liked more detail on the life of Sabrina, but understand there may have been little information to gather from that time. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Lori Fox
A good read. I wouldn't have even known about it if it weren't for my book club, but once I got into it I found it well-researched and well-written. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Barb
This is a good, if somewhat unpleasant, book about Thomas Day, who used his inherited wealth and position to treat orphan girls like livestock. Read morePublished on June 26, 2014 by Jeffrey Huntington
Interesting and well-written. And those who knew about this crazy little experiment didn't seem to think it was in the least bit odd. Read morePublished on June 21, 2014 by vab
What a strange story that ended well in spite of Thomas Day's being the prototype of an abusive personality being accepted in Victorian society and even being considered a model... Read morePublished on May 29, 2014 by Chris Coray
1700s' Georgian England was a time and place of great contrast. English naturalists formed some of the Western world's first conservation societies while English whalers and... Read morePublished on February 3, 2014 by Newton Ooi
Typically I am interested in books set in history, however the writing is very drab. The book is unenjoyable and uneventful.Published on January 24, 2014 by B Wkmn
This book tells the story of a man who set out to "raise" the perfect wife (by adopting a child and rearing her to his liking). Read morePublished on December 29, 2013 by Denny