The award-winning author of The Knife Man (2005) returns with a true-life, truly bizarre tale set in Georgian England.
Thomas Day (1748–1789) had numerous virtues: He supported the American Revolution, opposed slavery, believed in living meanly to support those in need, abhorred social conventions, and wrote best-selling poetry and children’s books. But as Moore shows us in this often shocking tale, Day was, in contemporary parlance, a creep—a man who took into his keeping two young girls whom he raised in a sort of sick competition to see which one would become his bride. Such behavior today, of course, would land him in prison for a lengthy sojourn, and Moore struggles valiantly to balance her disdain for Day’s soaring arrogance and male entitlement (and cruelty) with her wonder and scholarly disinterest. Day wasn’t a physically prepossessing fellow, but his considerable fortune and earnest manner caused many to overlook his eccentricities. Greatly influenced by Rousseau, Day cast about for a young woman who would meet his exacting spousal standards. Seeing none, he went to a foundling hospital, where he lied to obtain the services of two pre-pubescent girls, whom he named Sabrina and Lucretia. He tutored them, toughened them up with harsh physical training and raised them to be ideal partners for him (his intellectual equals, but also his servants). Day eventually sent Lucretia packing and invested all in Sabrina. It didn’t work out. Both eventually married other partners (and were more or less happy), and Sabrina ended up closely allied with the family of writer Fanny Burney. Her odd story found its way into writings by Burney, Trollope, Henry James and others.
A darkly enlightening tale—thoroughly researched, gracefully written—about Enlightenment thought, male arrogance and the magic of successful matrimony.