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

Thomas Day was an 18th-century aristocrat whose progressive political views, rooted in the ideals of liberty, equality and philanthropic good, clashed wildly with his constrictive views on women. While Day's experiments in grooming the perfect mate became a source of mirth among his peers, they provide fresh fodder for Wendy Moore's How to Create the Perfect Wife, which examines the age-old debate on nature versus nurture through painstaking historical research.

By the the time he turned 20, Day had already suffered two broken engagements and considerable heartbreak, leading him to conclude contemporary education was instilling women with corrupted values and that perfection could come only from schooling them in the virtuous ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile. So he hatched a scheme to groom a wife who would be "strong-willed and self-sufficient yet utterly doting and dedicated to his every whim." To that end, he kidnapped two preteen orphans under the guise of an apprenticeship, renamed them and subjected them to a battery of torturous mental and physical tests. Even finding a young girl who could rise to this challenge, though, failed to bring him satisfaction.

Moore frames Day's life through its ironic twists, contrasting his lofty political ambitions against his hypocritical views toward women. She even manages to impart varying degrees of sympathy for the morally repugnant Day--a testament to her ability to look beyond surface appearances and give the reader meaty philosophical quandaries to ponder. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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