How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain’s Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Perfect Mate

Wendy Moore, Author
Wendy Moore. Basic, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-465-06574-5
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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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 Émile, 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. Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville and Walsh Literary Agency (U.K.). (Apr. 9)
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