You know, every time I read about those organized types who keep their reading and TBR lists in GoodReads or spreadsheets or even on some sort of printed list, I think, oh brother. That sort of thing is just going to eat into my already precious reading time. But then books that I've requested come in at the library, I read them, I enjoy them, and I think, now where did I hear about this one? If I ever do start a reading notebook I think the main thing I'll track is how I found the books I request or buy (which I'd have to do the moment I request them, not when they come in, because my memory is terrible).
This was the case with Wendy Moore's historical biography How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate. I love biographies like this for two reasons: 1) I really, really enjoy reading about people who weren't necessarily famous (or who aren't famous anymore, at any rate), and 2) I really love reading histories that are at least part biography and biographies that are part history. This book was a very enjoyable example of its type, although I can't remember where I originally heard about it.*
Moore tells the story of one Thomas Day, an eighteenth-century Englishman known in his time for being a radical and the author of a popular children's book. But what Moore focuses on is his "wife-creating" activity; evidently he was somewhat of a picky bastard with high ideals for female perfection, so he decided to adopt a couple of young girls, raise them and teach them according to his social and educational principles (most of which were influenced by the controversial writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau), and then choose one of them to marry. And he didn't exactly keep his plan a secret; he knew a lot of influential Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers, and many of them knew about this plan, and didn't seem to give it a second thought.
The eighteenth century sounds like a wild time, man.
Well, the plan did not exactly proceed as planned. You'll just have to read the book to see if Day trained up his one true (and truly subservient) love:
"Day wanted a lifelong 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 and wrangle on politics, philosophy and literature as freely as he could in male company. He desired a companion who would be physically as tough and hardy as himself. In short he wanted a woman who would be more like a man. But he was only human--and male. So for all his apparently egalitarian views on education, Day wanted his future spouse happily to suppress her natural intelligence and subvert her acquired learning in deference to his views and desires. He wanted a wife who would be completely subservient to his wishes at all times. How then would he ever obtain the woman of his dreams?" (p. 7.)
My favorite part of the book, actually, was reading about the other women (the non-trained ones) who were engaged at some point to Day but who were smart enough to break it off before the wedding. Kudos to you, ladies!
*Maybe I requested it because I recognized the author's name? I'd read her earlier book Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore and really enjoyed it.