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.
My Childhood, or the Early Life of a Tiny
I will begin my story in the conventional way, with my ancestry.
About the unfortunately named Bumps, I have little to say other than they were hardworking people of French descent who somehow felt that shortening "Bonpasse" to "Bump" was an improvement.
With some pride, however, I can trace my pedigree on my mother's side back through Richard Warren of the Mayflower Company, to William, Earl of Warren, who married Gundreda, daughter of William the Conqueror. This is as far back as I have followed my lineage, but I trust it will suffice. Certainly Mr. Barnum, when he first heard it, was quite astonished, and never failed to mention it to the Press!
I was born on 31 October, 1841, on the family farm in Middleborough, Massachusetts, to James and Huldah Bump. Most people cannot contain their surprise when I tell them that I was, in fact, the usual size and weight. Indeed, when the ceremonial weighing of the newborn was completed, I tipped the ...
Benjamin's talent as a writer of historical fiction shines as she unravels Vinnie's autobiography, for there are few, if any, moments that stand out as unrealistic or fictionalized. The plot appears to be very loyal to the reality of Vinnie's life, and it is clear that Benjamin has found a story that is rare and needs few additions to dazzle readers.
(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).
Full Review (861 words).
Though she led an extraordinary and highly public life, few people today are familiar with the main character of Melanie Benjamin's The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.
In 1841, Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump was born in Middleboro, Massachusetts to a long-time well-respected New England family whose lineage can, in part, be traced back to five Mayflower passengers. The descendants of John Billington, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty, Stephen Hopkins, and Richard Warren intermarried many times over the decades - a fact that may have been the source of Vinnie's genetic disorder.
The woman who would become Mrs. Tom Thumb grew to be 32 inches tall and weighed 29 pounds, while her sister Minnie was even smaller at 27 inches (...
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