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.
The creepy tale pf am 18th-century gentleman who attempted to mould two prepubescent girls into his dream women.
[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
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.
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."
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"
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 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.
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.
A true Pygmalion-style story set in Georgian England
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 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.
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 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.
This is the best kind of non-fiction, the kind that reads like a novel and yet couldn't be made up.
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.
Compelling and meticulously researched
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.
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.
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.
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.
She has done an exceptional job of tracking Sabrina through the records and produced a cheerful, lively version of her tale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cover looked delightfully bonkers and flipping through the book, the writing was fun and lively. It's brilliant