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The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel…

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Melanie Benjamin

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4778821,697 (3.93)43
Title:The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel
Authors:Melanie Benjamin
Info:Bantam (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library, 2012
Tags:2012/11, fiction, historical fiction, little people, circus, book club, sent to mom

Work details

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

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Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
In an author's note at the end of "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb," author Melanie Benjamin writes, "I believe that every novel is either a mystery, a tragedy, or a love story -- some are all three -- and it became clear to me that this is a love story."

The key figures in the love story in her 2011 novel are not, as one might suppose, Lavinia Bump (or Vinnie Warren, as she called herself) and General Tom Thumb, one of the most famous couples in America during the Civil War and for a number of years afterward. No, the love of Vinnie's life, as Benjamin tells the story, is P.T. Barnum, the show business impresario of the period who discovered Tom Thumb and soon incorporated Vinnie, and later her even smaller sister, Minnie, into the act. Barnum, not the General, is the one man whom she can speak frankly with and pour her heart out to. Vinnie and her husband are never particularly close, except on the stage. He remains at heart ever a child, while she, despite her size, is very much a woman.

Tragedy haunts this story, as well, when Minnie dies in childbirth. Later Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) dies, from shame in Benjamin's telling, after a hotel fire..

Yet the novel also offers mystery, the mystery being how much of this tale is true and how much is fiction. As she did in "Alice I Have Been," her novel about Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll's inspiration for "Alice in Wonderland"), Benjamin fills in the blanks left by biographers. And there are always blanks, sometimes significant blanks.

Vinne really did write an autobiography, but it has little to say about her personal life, her motivations or her passions, and certainly nothing about her feelings for either her husband or Barnum. Benjamin has a gift for reading between the lines and inventing plausible explanations for what the biographers can tell us. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Mar 11, 2015 |
Born in 1841 and named Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump - who dined with presidents and kings, but became known the world over asMrs. Tom Thumb. "Vinnie" used her height of thirty-two inches to her advantage when she joined the circus of P.T. Barnum and traveled the world. Based on a historical figure, Melanie Benjamin pens a barnstorming tale of the antebellum south, of a bygone era, of a woman's public triumphs and personal tragedies. Summary BPL

Ms Benjamin writes on her blog that Lavinia Warren's journals gave up no clues of her inner life or deeper thoughts but was merely a recitation of events, appointments, meetings etc. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB seems to follow suit, whether by design or accident I can't tell. I was hoping for more insight, more personality from a 32 inch tall woman who made a successful career for herself in a female-unfriendly century and in a dodgy industry while retaining respectability and charm. Still, "Vinnie's" long life--she died in 1919!--ranging from the Civil War to silent movies makes for an enjoyable--if light--read.

7 out of 10 Recommended to readers of 19th century American history and "autobiographical" novels. ( )
  julie10reads | Mar 4, 2015 |
This is a work of historical fiction that reads very much like a true autobiography. It tells the story of Vinnie Warren, better known as Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Ms. Benjamin has done a lot of research, and the book provides not only the story of Vinnie's life, but also a look of what the world was like in the 1800s. The parts of the book where Vinnie and P.T. Barnum interact were wonderful. ( )
  LynnB | Jan 23, 2015 |
This is one of those books that I passed by several times and one day simply put in the pile and purchased. I wasn't sure if I would really enjoy it but I found it to be very entertaining. It is not a true autobiography. The facts correspond to Lavinia's real life but the author has used the facts and then built a story told from the subjects POV surmising what her thoughts are based partially on Mrs. Stratton's diaries and partly from imagination.

That being said, it is a fascinating look into the life of a woman in from the mid 1800's to the late 1800's. Although she is small in stature (2 1/2 feet or so) she is larger than life. She was married to General Tom Thumb(a.k.a Charles Stratton) but she was emotionally attached to P.T. Barnum. They had a friendship/relationship that spanned both her adult life and part of his - although both were married (twice) to other people, they had a very strong heart connection.

Lavinia's world is one of human curiosities - a world she chose to join in order to explore the wide world from which her parents tried to shield her. Her adventures are interrupted by the Civil War (and one imagines a whole other story within the story could have been written about she and General Thumb as they traveled meeting soldiers and lifting troop morale for the Union Army).

Don't read this book for facts. Read it to be stimulated to find out more about this fascinating woman - very much a product of her time and as a brief introduction to the world of P.T. Barnum. Books like these are meant to whet the appetite to find out more. An amuse bouche for readers. ( )
  ozzieslim | Dec 28, 2014 |
This work is also a fictionalized, historical novel based upon the life of an often overlooked woman. Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump was the wife of “General” Tom Thumb. Vinnie was born with proportionate dwarfism. Benjamin takes her life story from its beginnings to her eventual decision to join show business. Eventually, Vinnie joined P. T. Barnum’s attractions and became internationally famous. Benjamin’s novel centers on Vinnie’s time with Barnum, including behind the scenes views of their business.
  ktoonen | Dec 13, 2014 |
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Melanie Benjaminprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

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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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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