Summary and book reviews of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

A Novel

by Melanie Benjamin

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2011, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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Book Summary

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.

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.

ONE

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. What are the parallels between Vinnie's celebrity and the definition of celebrity today?


  2. Why did Vinnie determine to only communicate her optimism - what was she trying to hide behind, or hide from herself, by choosing not to dwell on the many obstacles in her way?


  3. Why did Vinnie go along with Barnum's humbug concerning the infant?


  4. Which is the true love story of the book - the story of Vinnie and Barnum, Vinnie and Charles, Vinnie and Minnie, or Vinnie and the public?


  5. Why do you think the notion of the Tom Thumb wedding so swept the nation that, even today, there are reenactments with children?


  6. What was the most interesting historical fact in the book for you? Which was the most ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (587 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

"[A] grand story worth the price of admission."

Library Journal

"Vinnie's first-person narration grabs you from the opening pages... Those interested in 'behind the scenes' of show business will be equally entranced."

Booklist

"Expect readers everywhere to give a great big hand to the little lady."

Author Blurb Johanna Moran, author of The Wives of Henry Oades
Vinnie Bump is one of the most engaging characters to come along in a while. Nineteenth-century women had few options; Vinnie had fewer yet. Melanie Benjamin renders her deeply human in a no-nonsense Olive Kitteridge sort of way. Readers will not soon forget her. I know I won't.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Ape House and Water for Elephants
By turns heart-rending and thrilling, this big-hearted book recounts a fictionalized life of this most extraordinary of women in prose that is lush and details that are meticulously researched. I loved this book.

Reader Reviews

Bonnie

Beautifully written historical fiction
Thirty two inch Vinnie Warren Stratten lived during the most fascinating time in our country's history. This novel takes you through her experiences as a woman who is ahead of her time and determined to be treated with dignity and respect. Ms ...   Read More

diane

thuy
I think that this book doesn't make sense,because his mother has pregnant for 3 son's and the 4th was little, that only 3 centimeters tall. That is impossible, because yes some people are little, but the man smallest in the world was1m tall, so......   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mercy Lavinia

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. Vinnie Warren Bump 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.

Mr. & Mrs. Tom Thumb 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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