How to Create the Perfect Wife

Written by Wendy Moore
Review by Sarah Bower

The feminist in me – not to mention the far from perfect wife – quailed at the title of this book. Neither need have worried.

In 1769, Thomas Day, poet, intellectual, law student and heir to a fortune, decides it is time to marry. However, Day is also bombastic, conceited, unkempt and lacking in social graces. As a suitor, he is a disaster, but he has a heart and it gets broken. Disillusioned by conventional courtship, and a follower of Rousseau’s theories of education, he decides, Pygmalion-like, to take a young orphan girl and turn her into the perfect wife.

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.

I should dislike Thomas Day intensely, yet Moore makes him appealing, because he’s human. And if any readers are inspired to thoughts of fiction about Day and his experiment… hands off, he’s mine!