From the No.1 bestselling author of WEDLOCK. The Georgian scandal of one gentleman, two orphans and an experiment to create the ideal wife.
This is the story of how Thomas Day, a young man of means, decided he could never marry a woman with brains, spirit or fortune. Instead, he adopted two orphan girls from a Foundling Hospital, and set about educating them to become the meek, docile women he considered marriage material.
Unsurprisingly, Day's marriage plans did not run smoothly. Having returned one orphan early on, his girl of choice, Sabrina Sidney, would also fall foul of the experiment. From then on, she led a difficult life, inhabiting a curious half-world - an ex-orphan, and not quite a ward; a governess, and not quite a fiancée. But Sabrina also ended up figuring in the life of scientists and luminaries as disparate as Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley, as well as that pioneering generation of women writers who included Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Anna Seward.
In HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT WIFE, Wendy Moore has found a story that echoes her concerns about women's historic powerlessness, and captures a moment when ideas of human development and childraising underwent radical change.
Enlightenment ideals become weapons in the battle of the sexes in this riotous saga of ill-starred romance. Journalist Moore (Wedlock) recounts the bizarre marriage project of Thomas Day, an 18th-century radical whose disdain for grooming, fashion, polite society, and female agency led to a string of rebuffed proposals and broken engagements. Taking a page from Rousseau's mile, he procured two tween-aged orphan girls with the object of teaching one to be his contradictory ideal of a wife: virginal, modest, stoically tough (he used hot wax and pistol shots to inure his star pupil to pain and fear), content to be his drudge in an isolated rural hovel, yet intellectually sophisticated enough to admire his progressive notions of freedom and autonomy. Moore sets Day's mad pedagogy amid a droll account of his upper-class circle and their chaotic love lives, in which passions are advanced and thwarted through curlicued social niceties. Moore's funny, psychologically rich narrative feels as if Jane Austen had reworked Shaw's Pygmalion into a Gothic-inflected comedy of manners, and illuminates the era's confusions about nature and nurture, sentiment and rationalism, love and power. The result is both a scintillating read and compelling social history. Illus.