I vaguely knew the story of Thomas Day and his attempt to mould a perfect wife from one of two orphan girls, that he ‘acquired’. However, until I read ‘How to create the perfect wife’, by Wendy Moore, I hadn’t appreciated just how much of an ordeal Day subjected the two young girls to.
After taking them from the orphanage, Day took the girls, Sabrina and Lucretia, to France, where they lived a life of drudgery and servitude. On their return to England, Day decided to focus his efforts on Sabrina, and packed Lucretia off to be a milliner’s apprentice. Sabrina was brought to Lichfield, where they became part of the social circle that included Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin and members of the Lunar Society. Sabrina and Day lived at Stowe House, and it was here that some of his worst treatment of the girl took place. As well as making Sabrina carry out all of the household tasks in the four storey house looking over Stowe Pool, Day subjected her to sadistic ‘training’ designed to develop stamina, strength and courage. Apparently, despite knowing that she was unable to swim, Day even forced the poor child into the waters of the pool itself on one occasion. Once soaked through, Day made her lie in one of the nearby fields until she dried out.
Although many in Lichfield knew of Day’s experiment, Wendy Moore believes that a combination of Day’s money and background, and the fact that many of his Lichfield ‘friends’ had their own scandals to deal with, meant that a blind eye was turned to his treatment of the girl.
Day eventually decided Sabrina wasn’t suitable and so she too was sent away, whilst Day turned his attentions elsewhere. Whilst the book explores Day’s continuing quest for the perfect wife, it was the story of what happened to Sabrina that I was really interested in. Thankfully, Wendy Moore does not abandon Sabrina as Day did and follows her life up until the end, thereby allowing us to know the full story of Sabrina as a person in her own right, and not just as part of a bizarre experiment carried out by a cruel and irresponsible man.
‘How to create the perfect wife’ by Wendy Moore is published by Orion. Details here.