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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 12 August 2017
Extremely interesting. I can't tell if its absolutely all true but I suspect it is. Its one of those ' you couldn't make it up' books. What it describes is when it comes down to it abuse but not in the usual way. I found myself absolutely condemning the man and his deeds but i was left thinking about what would have happened to these girls had he not come along.
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on 6 August 2017
Extremely well told true story of an early single person social experiment with a supporting cast including the pre-Charles Darwin family and John Constable - artist
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on 7 February 2013
Wendy Moore's speciality is telling the stories of eighteenth-century individuals whose lives almost defy belief. Her great gift for this is here undiminished. I think I enjoyed `How to Create the Perfect Wife' even more than her previous books, `Wedlock' and `The Knife Man', and I'm a big fan of both. I've wanted to find out more about Thomas Day's bizarre wife-creation experiment ever since first encountering the story in Jenny Uglow's `The Lunar Men'. It certainly proved a tale worth exploring, and Moore is a most convincing companion on the journey. She has unearthed plenty of fascinating detail, and uses it unerringly both in the service of her narrative and to throw wider light on a period of history that's still full of surprises.
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on 11 February 2013
I loved How to Create the Perfect Wife. It is a thoroughly researched, entertaining, intelligent, absorbing story about a strange man doing a very strange thing. I have no idea how long it took Wendy Moore to research but the detail is astonishing and carries you along into the world of the book. I didn't like Day, I wasn't supposed to. I found it hard to understand why those around him found him so impressive. I loved reading about him though. It made me think, and wonder and question which is always a good thing. Strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, and anyone who likes to learn something new.
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The story of Thomas Day, writer, law student and man of property. His great longing was for marriage - but he had stringent demands:

'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!
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on 19 June 2014
In the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Day was a minor public figure, so a lot of letters survive by and about him and his circle. He is all but forgotten as an author and philanthropist, but it is an incident in his personal life that is the focus of this biography.

In his early twenties, Day became convinced that he would never find a suitable wife, so he took two young girls from a foundling hospital and set about educating him to meet his strange demands. He made a generous donation to the hospital, so the girls were in effect bought by him. This didn't take place in isolation and the author is excellent in showing how Day (and many of his friends) were influenced by Rousseau. She is also very entertaining on the character traits that made women reluctant to marry Day, despite his large fortune.

It isn't the author's fault, but the second half of the book suffers in comparison to the first. It is just as meticulously researched and is always interesting, but nothing that happened to Day in the later part of his life is as compelling as the wife-training experiment.
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I was intrigued when I read a review of this book - I had never heard of Thomas Day's bizarre experiment to ensure that he had a wife who matched all his needs. This is a fascinating book which is obviously the result of meticulous research of 18th century documents.

After a couple of disastrous relationships Thomas Day was inspired by Rousseau's educational theories to create his perfect partner. Apparent from the start are the contradictions in Day's approach. He decided to take two young girls from an orphanage and train them to be compliant, loyal, strong and willing to live a life of simplicity. He furthered expected his chosen partner to be able to discuss philosophical ideas with him, engage in intelligent conversation, spurn all decoration and vanity and run a household without servants. While Day was an advocate for the abolition of slavery and later a supporter of American independence he seemed quite oblivious to the fact that his charges from the orphanage were treated as chattels with no rights of their own. It is odder still that so many of his friends (well educated people in the Age of Enlightenment) who seemed willing to be complicit in his experiment. Some of the things to which one girl in particular was subjected can only be described as abuse and if carried out today could well lead to a prison sentence.

The arrogance of Thomas Day seemed to be limitless - it is quite amazing that he ever found anyone to share his life. When the London Foundling Hospital decided to improve the lives of their charges by introducing music lessons Day objected vociferously. Music lessons for poor children would lead to continental airs and graces!

How to Create the Perfect Wife is a very entertaining and informative read which left me wanting to know more about Georgian society and in particular the Lunar Society. Wendy Moore recounts how Day's friend Richard Edgeworth offered his services to the city of Lyons (for free) and set about developing an ambitious engineering project to reclaim land by changing the direction of the river Rhône. I now want to find out more about this venture.

The story is exceptionally well told and in parts reads more like a novel than non-fiction.
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on 1 July 2013
Having thoroughly enjoyed Wendy Moore's previous books,'The Knife Man' and 'Wedlock', I began 'How to Create the Perfect Wife' with some anticipation. I was not disappointed. This is the most extraordinary tale told in Wendy Moore's now familiar gripping manner. The cast of 18th century characters includes the paranoid anglophobe Jean-Jacques Rousseau; the irrepressible Charles Edgeworth, whose inventions include a sail-powered carriage and a turnip-cutting machine; and serial gambler and all-round dissolute John Bicknell. The main story revolves around Thomas Day, a wealthy eccentric, and his attempts to bully and brainwash a young orphan girl into becoming the wife of his dreams. But dominating them all is the powerless foundling Sabrina and her refusal to be cowed. Great story-telling backed by copious research and thoughtful analysis is Wendy Moore's trademark. Roll on the next book!
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on 24 May 2014
I have just finished reading this book about my name sake Sabrina... she's the heroine isn't she, more than Day is the hero (villain). I think the book is terrific. You couldn't make it up. It's a great yarn. Then, as one of your pre-reviewers says, you realize the whole thing is true. And there's that Bicknell in it who ran off with the heroine in the end, but who did not live long enough to be made a man by her.

The research is remarkable and Wendy obviously enjoys that part of it. The amount of detail on the supporting cast is huge, and interesting. Great colour. I know from my own amateur efforts how much time and persistence it takes and I congratulate her warmly on this piece of work. I love it.
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on 14 November 2016
Thomas Day is one of those subjects who make it very difficult to like a biography. In modern-day parlance, he was a groomer - or a potential groomer. Arrogant, opinionated, utterly self-centred, selfish, and at best misguided, he was, paradoxically, also philanthropic, generous, intelligent, erudite and literary. A product of his day, it would be wrong to call him misanthropic - or would it? Is it fair to say that every Georgian man had such a low opinion of women? I think it is, and in fact Day didn't think women were unintelligent, or that they should lack opinions, he simply believed that their opinions should be the same as his own - or complementary to, if I'm being generous. In some ways - as his Lunar Society friends evidenced - his aim to create the perfect woman was ahead of his time - in terms of education at least, for he wanted her to be well-read (if not literate), able to expound on his favoured philosophies, and as philanthropic as himself. All with the caveat however, that she be directed by him, subservient to him in all and everything, and so, while he educated he also wished to subvert. Anyone should have been able to tell him that the two aims were incompatible, and it seems to me extraordinary that none did - or none are recorded as doing so - though Rousseau, his inspiration, was indeed appalled when he heard of Day's experiment.

Thomas Day was loathsome. Reading about him made me fizz with anger, made my toes curl, made me cheer when his experiment went wrong at every turn, and made me wish, fervently wish, that he'd got his come-uppance. Sadly this is history and not fiction, and he never did, unless his premature death could be so classified, ironically caused by a horse personally ill-trained.

Wendy Moore writes beautifully. She is much more well-balanced than I in her interpretation of Day's motivation, though what I really enjoyed were her little barbed asides, her lightly ironic tone, which made it clear, even while she was trying to present his 'doings' in a historical and therefore more kindly context, exactly what she thought of him. And her overarching theme, the continuing fascination of the Pygmalion/Galatea myth, gave me a lot of food for thought.

I can't say I relished this book simply because I loathed Thomas Day, but it was thought-provoking, a very enjoyable read, and a real eye-opener in terms of 'educated' attitudes to women in Georgian times, which I must confess I found shocking, even though I'd have said I was pretty well-read on the subject. I have Jenny Uglow's history of the Lunar Men which I abandoned because the text was so small. Now I'm going to go back to it and try again, just to see what her take is on Day's appearance in their society.

Wendy Moore writes excellent history. It's highly entertaining, brilliantly researched, contextual, and every single one of her books do what history should do, which is engage you emotionally. For good or bad, Thomas Day is a fascinating subject, and this book is much more than he deserves.
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