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Lewis Lapham: Want the Ideal Wife? Don’t Adopt an Orphan

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'How to Create the Perfect Wife'
"How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate," by Wendy Moore. Source: Basic Books via Bloomberg

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Constantly dumped by women, young Thomas Day decided to create the perfect wife. He adopted two pre-teen girls from the Foundling Hospital and proceeded to raise them to his liking.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Day was sure that women were being ruined by their frivolous 18th-century upbringing, so he used Rousseau’s “Emile” as a model to teach the girls science, philosophy and history.

Deeming one “invincibly stupid” after six months, he focused his attention on the auburn-haired beauty he’d renamed Sabrina. She was to be clever yet totally subservient to him.

To make her tough, Day stuck her with pins and dripped hot sealing wax on her bare skin, instructing her not to move or cry out. He also dumped Sabrina in a cold river when she could not swim and fired pistols at her petticoats.

It never occurred to the upper-class, rich Day that even an orphan might rebel at this treatment. The two never married.

I spoke with Wendy Moore, author of “How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain’s Most Ineligible Bachelor and his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate,” on the following topics:

1. Parade of Little Girls

2. Under His Thumb

3. Progressive Education

4. Sadistic Trials

5. Pygmalion

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on NYC Weekend and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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