The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

A Novel

Book - 2012 | Bantam Books trade paperback edition
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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.
Publisher: New York : Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks, 2012, c2011
Edition: Bantam Books trade paperback edition
ISBN: 9780385344166
Branch Call Number: FIC Benj
Characteristics: 458 pages


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Jun 26, 2020

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.

May 07, 2019

This was an interesting and enjoyable read. If I knew it before, I didn't remember now that there had ever been a "Mrs. Tom Thumb." It was amazing to hear and learn about all the things that she had to go through, starting with carrying a set of stairs with her everywhere. She had such a sense of adventure, and grew bored and tired of staying in one place too long. Although a novel, it seems the author did an amazing job of collecting facts and documents to collaborate her story. In view of our current racial/ethnic/'different' tensions, I can't help but wonder how her story would have gone had she been Black or Native American. Would the Kings, Queens and affluent of today's world still welcome her?

Mar 24, 2018

You must go see the movie "The Greatest Showman" before reading this book. This movie explains a lot of the before events to the book and will give you a greater appreciation to the story and the times. The book actual takes place probably 15 to 20 years later. Mrs. Tom Thumb is a unique form of "little people" and faced some of the problems they face even today. Interesting reading...just remember, it is HER story and not the story of others.

May 22, 2016

I enjoyed this book, and I generally like Melanie Benjamin as an author, but it had a couple of weak points for me. This book captured the emotions of Lavinia Warren's experiences quite well, but I did have a rather hard time connecting to her character as Benjamin chose to portray her. I admired Lavinia's ambition and drive, but her constant dismissal of her husband as well as her thirst for fame made me sympathize with her less. The historical context of the book was also a little weak. Interspersed throughout the chapters were news stories and such from the era, which were all interesting to read but didn't really have anything to do with the actual events in the book.

Melanie Benjamin did do a good job of tracing Lavinia's life and what she experienced during her years as a performer. I found Lavinia's experiences thought-provoking; it was her size that opened up the opportunity for her to travel the world and have such a public lifestyle at a time in history when most women couldn't pursue that. Of course, she also faced rudeness, disrespect, and ignorance from the public. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoyed Water for Elephants.

Mar 28, 2014

This extremely well-written book provides a fascinating insight into life in the US in the late 1800s in much the same way as 'Water for Elephants'. The obsession with 'oddities' such as proportionate dwarves seems wrong somehow to our modern ways of thinking but I think most of us have a naturally curiosity for living beings who are 'out of the ordinary'. I would loved to have met Mr and Mrs Tom Thumb in person and certainly enjoyed reading about Vinnie's (imagined) challenges and inner thoughts.

Aug 25, 2012

very enjoyable. It exposes a world that someone like me (6 foot 4 inches) can only imagine. So much of the history is also very enjoyable and educational, but still and always - fun

Mar 30, 2012

original and interesting! love reading from different viewpoints at different times in history, and this definitely fit the bill. great book!

Feb 24, 2012

I loved this book! It had so much heart and new adventures around every bend.Very interesting characters

Nann Dec 07, 2011

A first-person novel about a real 'little person.' Lavinia
' Vinnie' Warren was born in 1841. She stopped growing at less than 3 feet (due to a pituitary disorder). She refused to be coddled, got an education, and taught school. But she wanted to see the world and persuaded her parents to let a 'cousin,' a show business promoter, let her join his retinue on a Mississippi showboat. He is unsavory. She is resourceful and is rescued by none other than P. T. Barnum. His grand publicity stunt is to marry her to his other 'little person,' Charles Stratton AKA Col. Tom Thumb. They are rock stars and travel the world, meet Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln, and live in high style. Their private life was not so pleasant. Charles was sheltered, spoiled, an alcoholic gambler. Vinnie is sometimes clueless but often insightful. She prevails against the odds. "I will not let my size define me," she said. "I will define it."

This is a great choice for book groups.

Sep 09, 2011

An interesting story, well told. I never knew about these people until I read this book. Based on the lives of the real people.

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