How to Create the Perfect Wife

How to Create the Perfect Wife : The True Story of One Gentleman, Two Orphans and an Experiment to Create the Ideal Woman

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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 fiancee. 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.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 20mm | 280g
  • Orion Publishing Co
  • Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0753828952
  • 9780753828953
  • 319,309

Review quote

The kind of story you couldn't make up: two girls taken from foundling hospitals in the late 18th century to be trained by Thomas Day, Enlightenment man and follower of Rousseau, one for eventual marriage to him. An 'experiment' supported by friend lie Erasmus Darwin masks the horror of almost 15,000 children abandoned in one week. Superb history. SUNDAY HERALD The creepy tale pf am 18th-century gentleman who attempted to mould two prepubescent girls into his dream women. THE OBSERVER [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 -- Jenny Uglow NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS By the measure of our times Day is a damnable oddball, but Moore paints him in an engaging way and rescues the unfortunate Sabrina from the dustbucket of history. SUNDAY BUSINESS POST As in her previous book, Wedlock, which portrayed a disastrous and cruel marriage, Moore has 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." The Guardian 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. It's a grim tale told with flashes of humour" SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 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. -- Kathryn Hughes MAIL ON SUNDAY 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. -- Andrew Wulf The Guardian Wendy Moore has written before about brutal oddball Georgians, but what is so intriguing about this rollicking and well-researched book is just how confoundedly, detestably hypocritical her central character is...This is a sordid tale, splendidly told. -- Helen Davies SUNDAY TIMES A true Pygmalion-style story set in Georgian England -- Kate Figes MAIL ON SUNDAY - YOU MAGAZINE With gusto and glee Wendy Moore takes on the paradoxes of "the Age of Reason" and the tyranny of public probity and private morality. -- Iain Finlayson THE TIMES Wendy Moore is the author of the acclaimed Wedlock and like that this story zips along. It is firmly anchored against the backdrop of Georgian politics, abolition and the American War of Independence, all of which Day was passionate about. 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. -- Caroline Jowett DAILY EXPRESS Moore uncovers for the first time the full story of Sabrina, and it is to the original Eliza Doolittle that this book belongs. -- Frances Wilson DAILY TELEGRAPH Wendy Moore likes odd subjects...The subject of her latest is equally bizarre, a sort of double biography; of an 18-th 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. -- Phillippa Stockley SUNDAY TELEGRAPH This is the best kind of non-fiction, the kind that reads like a novel and yet couldn't be made up. -- Stuart Kelly SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY The real discovery here is Sabrina and her background. Some of the most fascinating parts of the book are about the foundling hospitals and orphanages of the period, and the unhappy mothers who gave up their babies to them. Ms Moore has combed the orphanages archives, read the forms for each baby and seen the tokens left with them - a single earring, a piece of fabric, a playing card torn in half - in the hope of a future reunion. Sadly, stories of mothers rediscovering long-lost children were rare, the stuff of plays and novels. ECONOMIST Compelling and meticulously researched -- Orlando Bird FINANCIAL TIMES Back before online dating gave everyone the power to construct an idealised bullshit version of themselves, Londoners had to work a little harder to find their perfect mate. For eighteenth-century gent Thomas Day, profiled in impressive detail in this biography, this involved adopting a pair of pre-pubescent girls and moulding them to a ridiculously specific set of womanly criteria. -- David Clack TIME OUT Moore has such 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. -- Tim Sharp SUNDAY HERALD GLASGOW Moore's story 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. -- Lesley McDowell THE SCOTSMAN Nowhere, however, is she better than on the procedures of the London Foundling Hospital, and tracing the trajectory of her 'foundlings'. As a champion of the lost she finds her own most authentic and compelling voice. -- Sarah Burton THE SPECTATOR She has done an exceptional job of tracking Sabrina through the records and produced a cheerful, lively version of her tale. -- Bella Bathurst THE OBSERVER His somewhat bizarre Pygmalion-style social experiment to create the perfect wife and live in frugal, romantic and rural seclusion captured the attention of his radical circle of friends, who included Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward, as Day tried to rear foundlings and orphans to his 'requirements'. Did he succeed? Find out more with this page-turning true tale from award-winning journalist and author. FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE 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. -- Michael Caines WALL STREET JOURNAL It's an extraordinary story, which highlights the powerlessness of women at the time; it also provides an insight into this era of profound change in ideas about human progress and child development. WEST COUNTRY 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. -- Amanda Foreman, author of GEORGIANA, DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE and A WORLD ON FIRE 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. -- Caroline Weber, author of QUEEN OF FASHION: WHAT MARIE ANTOINETTE WORE TO THE REVOLUTION Read How To Create The Perfect Wife and feel your emotions pulled this way and that. Hate Thomas Day, and then see why people loved him; admire Sabrina, and wonder how on earth she did it. Be amazed at the famous names and the strange things they thought and did. Be surprised at the astonishing twists in the plot. Be unequivocally impressed by the depth of research, and be unable to put it down. -- Norma Clarke LITERARY REVIEW Where she succeeds intensely, though, is in redeeming Sabrina from the shadow of Day, and painting a portrait of supposed rationalism as a vehicle for an unsettling species of inhumanity -- Sarah Ditum RATIONALIST ASSOCIATION Moore tells the tale with panache, winkling out hitherto unknown details from the records, letters and personal papers of the Shrewsbury Foundling Hospital from where Day obtained two pubescent orphan girls for his experiment. -- Julie Peakman HISTORY TODAY Wendy Moore recounts this tale with a mixture of fascination and disgust, drawing a man with such a conviction of being right and so little empathy, that he saw the girls only as his work-in-progress rather than as independent human beings. -- Scarlett MacGuire TRIBUNE Wendy Moore's book is a biography of Day, focusing on his attempt to find a compatible wife, as well as describing his wider intellectual interests in philosophy, poetry and science. -- Jennifer Breen TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT Day was part of the intellectual and literary establishment of England in the 1700s, and he did not conceal his wife experiments from his friends. Consequently, Moore finds it directly echoed by novelists Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney (who both knew Day and his subject), adapted into fiction by Anthony Trollope, and perhaps the inspiration for Shaw's Pygmalion. -- Sarah Ditum NEW HUMANIST Around this appalling and scarcely credible premise, Moore builds a gripping narrative and examines the serious questions raised by a life full of contradictions. While torturing his chosen bride into submission with pistols and hot sealing wax, Day nevertheless becomes a prominent anti-slavery campaigner and supporter of American independence. He enjoys the company of articulate, intelligent and independent-minded women, yet believes a wife should be totally subordinate to her husband's direction. -- Sarah Bower HISTORICAL NOVELS SOCIETY The cover looked delightfully bonkers and flipping through the book, the writing was fun and lively. It's brilliant -- Heidi Moore GUARDIAN.CO.UK [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 -- Jenny Uglow NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS The Creepy tale of an 18th-century gentleman who attempted to mould two prepubescent girls into his dream women. THE OBSERVER By the measure of our times Day is a damnable oddball, but Moore paints him in an engaging way and rescues the unfortunate Sabrina from the dustbucket of history. SUNDAY BUSINESS POST As in her previous book, Wedlock, which portrayed a disastrous and cruel marriage, Moore has 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." THE GUARDIAN 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. It's a grim tale told with flashes of humour" SUNDAY TELEGRAPHshow more

About Wendy Moore

Wendy Moore is a freelance journalist and author. Her work had been published in numerous national newspapers and magazines and has won several awards Her first book KNIFE MAN: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN HUNTER, FATHER OF MODERN SURGERY, won the Medical Journalists' Association Consumer Book Award in 2005 and was shortlisted for both Saltire and the Marsh Biography Awards. Her Second book. WEDLOCK: HOW GEORGIAN BRITAIN'S WORST HUSBAND MET HIS MATCH, has been highly acclaimed in reviews and was chosen as one of the ten titles in the Channel 4 TV Book Club. She lives in London with her husband Pete and two children, Sam and Susie. Visit Wendy Moore's website at http://wendymoore.org and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/wendymoore99.show more

Rating details

761 ratings
3.57 out of 5 stars
5 16% (121)
4 40% (307)
3 32% (245)
2 8% (64)
1 3% (24)
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