This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel (2011)

by Melanie Benjamin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
69710523,276 (3.91)56
Mid-nineteenth-century little person Mercy Levinia Warren Bump comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus, through which she meets her future husband, General Tom Thumb, and pursues limitless international opportunities.
  1. 20
    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both well-written stories about the performing life. Very different sides of it, and in very different time periods, but both well-written and exciting.
  2. 00
    Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 00
    Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (watertiger)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 56 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump was "a perfectly proportioned woman in miniature," reaching a height of 32 inches by adulthood (the quote is probably not exact since I listened to the audiobook). As a teenager, she realized that she could live a small life in her small town, becoming an old spinster and being forgotten shortly after her lonely death, or she could take advantage of her size to live a big life and leave her mark on the wider world. She chose the latter, journeying first on the Mississippi River as part of a floating "freak show" and then reaching out to the legendary P.T. Barnum and joining his American Museum.

Vinnie had a fascinating life. She did actually marry Charles Stratton, "General Tom Thumb," who toured with P.T. Barnum from the age of 5 until his death. Vinnie started her career with the American Museum but after her marriage, she and Charles toured Europe, the US, and eventually the world. That trip would have been almost impossible for someone of "normal" size at the time (Vinnie's career launched shortly before the Civil War began), and it seems unimaginable that two little people managed it with their support staff. This is the part that I would have enjoyed reading more about, but true records of Vinnie's life are apparently scarce.

This was an introspective book, as a fictionalized "autobiography" should be, but the introspection is exactly the part that left me a bit disinterested. I feel this is entirely due to my mood; listening to this during stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic might not have been the best choice. I've been struggling to find books that catch my interest while this has been going on, and the books that are working for me are more action-filled and for a younger audience. I keep trying other books though, and they keep not working out so great for me at this particular moment in history. Oh well. Life will find its new normal at some point, right?

The introspection and reflection just felt a bit repetitive. One of the first sentences of the book refers to Vinnie's guilt over the death of her sister Minnie, who was even smaller than Vinnie. Natually, Vinnie's thoughts return to her guilt and what she could have done differently to avoid Minnie's death over and over again. As a reader, I honestly just wanted to move on. And a small thing that annoyed me as I listened to the audiobook was the overuse of the word dreadful. I can't imagine this was overlooked by an editor and can only conclude that it must have been a favorite with the real-life Vinnie.

Vinnie comes across as being a bit of a cold-hearted realist. She marries Charles Stratton simply because he is also a little person and because she knows that their wedding will be the show of the decade. She also knows that childbirth is not something she would survive (she and Minnie were both normally-sized newborns), so she always keeps Charles at arm's length. A lot of her decisions are made with a business sense that appears to be as keen as that of P.T. Barnum himself. The only person who really seems to have her heart is her sister Minnie.

I had a bit of a difficult relationship with Kim Mai Guest's narration as well. Her voice was very soft and very high, which seems fitting considering who is telling the story, but that made it really hard to hear as I moved about rooms and did chores as I normally do while listening to audio books. I don't normally have that kind of trouble. That aside, I was happy enough with her performance.

Author Melanie Benjamin certainly chose a captivating subject with a lot of true material to work with, but unfortunately her approach didn't click with me at this point in my life. I certainly recommend it for others who enjoy historical fiction and who have better concentration than I do right now. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Jun 27, 2020 |
Enchanting, moving, and fascinating. These are just a few words which can amply describe The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb; and that was only by the first few chapters. This novel instantly grabs all of your attention with vivid imagery, thorough descriptions, all the current events, and a strong plot without the usual fictional cheese. A 'coming of age' story, depicting self-acceptance and growth; The story reads with depth and very interesting character development. The best part of all - NO romance!!!

Author Melanie Benjamin has already successfully fictionalized the life of woman brought to prominence by someone else, Alice Liddell Hargreaves, of Alice In Wonderland, in her novel 'Alice I Have Been'. Now with her new novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, Benjamin imagines the life of another woman whose life was given over to their need for attention and fame, and placed this desire in the very capable hands P.T. Barnum. Could Benjamin be inventing a new genre? I hope so. Her subject choices are fascinating and her writing is wonderful. I could stand another few decades of novels like these. (HINT, HINT!!)

Focusing on the character of Vinnie, the reader forgets that they was just introduced to the story and to her character; one with a strong voice and winning personality, coming alive before your eyes. Vinnie powerfully evokes a bond with the reader, thus resulting in a shared emotional journey. From the first time she was called a “dwarf” to the (SPOILERS!!!!!). death of her sister Minnie, Vinnie shares her joys and failures with the reader. (This part of the storyline was so sweet, so plaintive, and so endearing!! The death of Minnie hit me more keenly than any other characters has in a long time. I felt like I lost a dear friend of my own! Benjamin is just that good at her craft.)

Vinnie lived one of those lives that beg the "you couldn't make this up" description. At a time when the average woman lived a family-centric, incredibly hard working life, Vinnie looked for ways to assert her independence. She didn't see herself as a victim or handicapped. Vinnie allowed the world to define her by her size but on her own terms. She chose to be a victor, not a victim. She brought herself to the attention to THE P. T. Barnum, and he made her a star, and then married her off to a superstar. Her wedding pushed the Civil War off the front pages for a week!! She and her hubby were the favorites of kings and presidents, and known the world over. What more could a woman want, in this era?

Melanie Benjamin’s language and text style is intelligent and skillfully written, yet easy and smooth enough that one keeps turning the pages without even noticing the minutes ticking by. The story never drags. It is rare to find a book with NO slow parts but The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb was genuinely contained and a constantly engaging, and well-developed novel. Never did I imagine I would tear up quite so much at the death of Vinnie’s sister during childbirth. A highly pivotal point to the rest of the book, it evoked much emotion and changed the tone in a moving and satisfying way.

At times, you may think that Vinnie is egotistical and vain, or putting on airs with society. But then later on in her life, she finds out that her very dear friends were actually laughing at her and her husband, for dressing exactly like them, right down to their very hairdo's. Although either situation may anger some readers (and perhaps it is supposed to, as it is not the typical path of human self-advancement); it demonstrated that Vinnie is“real” and with faults, just like anyone else. This is best portrayed when she meets some “freaks” while working on a sideshow at Barnum’s circus and although she is considered a novelty herself; she is disgusted by the other “creatures”. (I had no idea that proportionate dwarfs were so disdainful, and maybe even afraid to intermix with the disproportionate dwarves, at this time. I certainly hope there isn't such a rift now a-days.)

Melanie Benjamin remained quite historically accurate with her work despite some of the fictional matter used to keep the book moving. The chronology and sequencing was in-line with major events and thus, the book isn’t as annoyingly speculated as other historical fiction pieces. Benjamin actually read the unpublished autobiography of the real Mrs. Tom Thumb (which is a rather dry compilation and is more of a travelogue devoid of any emotion); so it would appear that Vinnie would be very proud of this novel depicting her life. All the necessary links, and proof, were included in my borrowed copy of an e-book from my local library, pictures and all. I spent hours after reading this novel, happily looking at pictures on various sites online.

I would have liked the book to continue onward to Vinnie’s second marriage after the death of General Tom Thumb, and that is my only major gripe about this novel. But I enjoyed the inside look at P.T. Barnum which debunked (based on facts) many of Vinnie’s career and life choices.

Benjamin fully explores the home life, the show biz life and the personal life of Vinnie all the while keeping the America of the 1800's squarely in the picture. The events, culture and attitudes of the period are perfectly captured. In that way The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is a vest pocket Ragtime. It has the same tremendously engaging layering of personality and history - only with a much smaller cast of characters.

I was enchanted with The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb from beginning to end. Melanie Benjamin has written a powerfully entertaining portrait of an amazing woman who lived a remarkable life. I am now very intrigued by the thought of reading her other novels, very soon!! ( )
  stephanie_M | Apr 30, 2020 |
The Autobiography of Tom Thumb: A Novel
by Melanie Benjamin
Bantam/ Random
4.5 / 5.0

Melanie Benjamin has a talent for bringing her readers into deep, intimate worlds of the past. She brings to life historical periods and and the people who lived them, so seamlessly.

This historical fiction, based on the real life of Lavinia Bump Warren, a small person who became one of the most popular acts,( with her husband, Tom) in P.T. Barnum's museum, circus and traveling show. Don't let her size fool you-Ms. Bump knew what wanted and stood up what she believed in. She was a remarkable and endearing woman, full of ambition, and loving life.

Engaging, thrilling and fun. This was a delight to read. ( )
  over.the.edge | Jan 2, 2020 |
I am not normally a huge fan of historical fiction, but Benjamin did a great job telling this story. Lavinia Warren is a dwarf, but one of perfect proportions, impressive intellect, a good voice, and a spirit longing for adventure. With no great prospects for her future, Vinnie uses her diminutive size to her advantage and joins a roving troupe of performers and eventually comes to the attention of the Great Barnum and becomes the wife of Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb. Alongside her life, there are fascinating entries from popular magazine and news articles that make the reader aware of the historical events happening in her life: the Civil War, the construction of the RR, the discovery of electricity, etc. A good read. ( )
  Berly | Nov 8, 2019 |
Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres, but this one got me wondering. Benjamin had the basics of the lives of Lavinia Warren, Minnie Warren, Charles Stratton and P. T. Barnum, then she just made up a story about them. I guess this is how historical fiction goes, but Benjamin's story involved Lavinia's being judgmental, controlling and virginal her whole life. It's a good story but seems like strange choices. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Oct 10, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Melanie Benjaminprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bordwin, GabrielleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brady, MathewPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burckhardt, MarcCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stancil, CathyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turner, SusanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To Dennis, without whom
First words
I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Mid-nineteenth-century little person Mercy Levinia Warren Bump comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus, through which she meets her future husband, General Tom Thumb, and pursues limitless international opportunities.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
In her national bestseller Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.

“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.
Haiku summary
Was she too little?
Was the world itself too small / 
to contain her dreams? (LynnB)

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alum

Melanie Benjamin's book The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Sign up to get a pre-publication copy in exchange for a review.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.91)
1 2
1.5 1
2 10
2.5 5
3 39
3.5 23
4 100
4.5 16
5 56

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 150,709,031 books! | Top bar: Always visible