Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Title: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: July 26, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like historical fiction that focuses on people a little more off the beaten path.
What's the Story?:

From "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."

My Two Cents:

It's fun to read about major characters in history through historical fiction books. But sometimes it's even more awesome to read about some super interesting minor characters in our history. Vinnie is one of those characters. I had heard of General Tom Thumb before in conjunction with P.T. Barnum but Vinnie, also known as Mrs. General Tom Thumb, was a totally new persona to me.  

The mid to late 1800s were not kind to anyone who had some sort of physical or mental abnormality. As a little person standing only 2 feet and 8 inches tall as an adult, Vinnie worries that she's destined for a life of being hidden away and never leaving home. However, unlike a lot of other people in her situation, she does get out to see the world as part of a show. First she's on a riverboat and then she's hired on as part of P.T. Barnum's American Museum, a pre-cursor to his infamous circus. 

It's not exactly glamorous work but it gets Vinnie out of what she thought her life would be. Vinnie is an amazing character. Even though the reason that she gets the jobs with the show and the museum is because of how she looks, she doesn't let size define her. I can only imagine how brave that must of been at a time where there were not many opportunities whatsoever for people who didn't fit an average mold. She is determined to make sure that although people may initially be drawn to her for her small stature, that her height is not the last thing that they remember about her. 

I really enjoyed this book. At some points it does get a little long winded and I would have liked to know more about Tom Thumb himself. Even though Vinnie and he were married, she seems to think him almost infantile and their marriage doesn't seem to be a true one. 

Bottom line: A great pick for a good historical fiction that covers people unknown to many of us. 


  1. I have Alice I Have Been on my bookshelf, and this one on my wishlist. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it; it does seem interesting to have this historical fiction focus on such a minor character.

    1. I read Alice I Have Been too and definitely liked this one better.

  2. This sounds delightful..thanks for such a great review.

  3. I have been thinking about picking this one up at some point but still unsure. I hadn't read any reviews of it yet, but you kinda make me want to read it. Plus you know how I love covers and this one is precious with the shoes on it. I may grab this one at the library. Thanks Meg!


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