Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

January 30, 2013 Whitney Review 0 Comments

Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom ThumbThe Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Published by Random House on July 26, 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 424
Source: Bought

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.

Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

There is a woman behind every man.  An amazing woman.  That’s what The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is about, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump, the wife of Tom Thumb.

Most know of Tom Thumb through a cute fairy tale or a Disney production, but not the real story.  That is what I like about Melanie Benjamin’s writing/novels; as she did in Alice I Have Been, she took a well-known fairy tale and gave the reader an “inside scoop” to the truth behind it, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

Vinnie is determined to be remembered, instead of her name being covered up in weeds.  Thus, she is recruited by a “cousin” to perform on a Mississippi Showboat; with the conditions and treatment being heinous, devoid of the luxury one may associate with show business.  I found this very interesting, not only for its depiction but because of where they stopped; two of their docking, Davenport, Iowa and Galena, Illinois, I live about thirty minutes from Davenport and have visited Galena several times, so I found their descriptions interesting, fiction or otherwise; although I was particularly piqued by Ulysses S. Grant’s appearance in the book.

Eventually, after some lude conduct Vinne comes back home and again is signed, this time to no other than P.T. Barnum.  Everything before was just a prelude.  Here Vinnie’s story really begins, she gains the fame she has craved for and finds a partner in  Charles Srattan i.e. General Tom Thumb, even if it is only a business move.  This is where I started getting annoyed with Vinnie, she became self-centered and a little thoughtless always keeping her eye on the prize, by using people to further her career.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself, but it did make me lose a little respect for her.

But there is one person she would do anything for, not her husband but her little sister Minnie the only sibling who is over the same height as she.  Vinnie is an over-protective sister, shielding her from all the evil in the world and giving Minnie (almost) anything her heart desires.

By almost I mean a baby.  After she and Charles marry, the world awaits a child from the dwarfed couple.  Despite Vinnie inability to conceive Barnum creates a baby Stratton, replacing it each time the baby got too big.  Like giving up a puppy, it killed Charles’ and Minnie’s heart every time a baby was taken from them, and this longing was the reason for Minnie’s undoing.

The last quarter of the book was a whirlwind, so much was crunched in the last 75 pages that I was reading as quickly as I could take it in.  Lives are threatened and lost, with business going sour.  The last twenty pages, including a mass fire at a Milwaukee Hotel had me engulfed with curiosity to the end of the book, which I found to  be all too tragic, but the show must go on.


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