The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

by Melanie Benjamin


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For anyone who loves the historical novels of Sara Gruen, Geraldine Brooks, and E. L. Doctorow, a barnstorming tale of an irrepressible, brawling, bawdy era and the remarkable woman who had the courage to match the unique spirit of America’s Gilded Age.

She was only two feet, eight inches tall, but more than a century later, her legend reaches out to us. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren 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 became the world’s most unexpected celebrity. Vinnie’s wedding captivated the nation, preempted coverage of the Civil War, and even ushered her into the White House. But her fame also endangered 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, 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.
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BONUS: This edition contains a timeline, an interview with Melanie Benjamin, and an excerpt from Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385344166
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 423,692
Product dimensions: 5.04(w) x 8.48(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was Alice I Have Been. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.

Read an Excerpt


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 scales at precisely six pounds!

My entrance into the family was preceded by three siblings, two male and one female, and was followed by another three, two male and one female. All were of ordinary stature except my younger sister, Minnie, born in 1849.

I am told that I grew normally during the first year of my life, then suddenly stopped. My parents didn't notice it at first, but I cannot fault them for that. Who, when having been already blessed with three children, still has the time or interest to pay much attention to the fourth? My dear mother told me that it wasn't until I was nearly two years old that they realized I was still wearing the same clothes—clothes that should already have been outgrown, cleaned and pressed, and laid in the trunk for the next baby. It was only then that my parents grew somewhat alarmed; studying me carefully, they saw that I was maturing in the way of most children—standing, talking, displaying an increased interest in my surroundings. The only thing I was not doing was growing.

They took me to a physician, who appraised me, measured me, poked me. "I cannot offer any physical explanation for this," he informed my worried parents. "The child seems to be perfectly normal, except for her size. Keep an eye on her, and come back in a year's time. But be prepared for the possibility that she might be just one example of God's unexplainable whims, or fancies. She may be the only one I've seen, but I've certainly heard of others like her. In fact, there's one over in Rochester I've been meaning to go see. Heard he can play the violin, even. Astounding."

My parents did not share his enthusiasm for the violin-playing, unexplainable Divine whim. They carried me to another physician in the next town over, who, being a less pious man than the previous expert, explained that I represented "an excellent example of Nature's Occasional Mistakes." He assured my increasingly distressed parents that this was not a bad thing, for it made the world a much more interesting place, just as the occasional two-headed toad and one-eyed kitten did.

In despair, my parents whisked me back home, where they prayed and prayed over my tiny body. Yet no plea to the Almighty would induce me to grow; by my tenth birthday I reached only twenty-four inches and weighed twenty pounds. By this time my parents had welcomed my sister Minnie into the world; when she displayed the same reluctance to grow as I had, they did not take her to any physicians. They simply loved her, as they had always loved me.

"Vinnie," my mother was fond of telling me (Lavinia being the name by which I was called, shortened within the family to Vinnie), "it's not that you're too small, my little chick, but rather that the world is too big."

My poor, tenderhearted mother! She thought that she was reassuring me. She was a lovely, pious creature, tall and thin, a clean, starched apron constantly about her waist. She had shining brown hair that I inherited, slightly worried brown eyes, and an ever-patient smile upon her lips. She only wanted me to be happy, to be safe; she wanted to keep me home, where she was certain less harm could come to me. She was trying, in her simple way, to reconcile me to that future, the only future that she—or anyone else—could envision for one my size.

What she didn't understand was that she was only inciting my curiosity about that big world. Everything was bigger than me; if the world was so much larger that she had to constantly warn me of it, what wonders did it contain? What marvels? I could not understand why anyone would not want to see them.

My father never tried to fool me in this way. He was not a demonstrative man, but around me, and then around Minnie, who was even smaller, he was extremely reticent. I believe he was terrified he might crush us with his big, work-worn hands, so he did not touch us at all, not a pat or a hug. He never seemed able to understand why God had made Minnie and me so small, and I believe he was slightly ashamed of us. Whenever we were out together as a family, he always kept his head bent; this way, he did not have to look anyone in the eye. I'm not sure he completely understood why he did this, or what he was afraid to encounter in the gaze of his fellow man; perhaps he simply didn't want to see pity for us there—or for himself.

Yet he loved us. And in the way of most men, he reacted by trying to solve us, as if we were the one wagon wheel that stubbornly refused to match up with the others, causing the whole contraption to wobble. This took the form of practicality, which, in the end, was much more useful than Mama's clucking and soothing. My first memory was of my father presenting me with a set of wooden steps, lovingly made by his own hands, which were too clumsy for caresses. They had crafted a beautiful set of steps, however, sanded to a honeyed glow so that not a single splinter might puncture a tender, tiny foot. They were lightweight, a miracle of engineering, so that I could easily carry them with me wherever I went.

Later, after the fire, Mr. Barnum gave me a gorgeous set of steps covered in crushed red velvet with my initials embroidered upon them. But they have never been able to take the place of my father's simple gift.

My brothers and sister swooped and ran and carried on like all children, happily including Minnie and me in their play, not worrying very much about whether or not we could keep up. And we could—or rather, I could. Unlike me, Minnie was content with her small corner of the world; she knew she could not easily keep up with the others, so she didn't even try. She found happiness, instead, in what was easily within her reach; no stair steps for her! She spent hours playing with her dolls, sitting on her little stool by the hearth, sewing handkerchiefs or helping Mama prepare meals. She was very shy around others and felt their stares keenly, even though she was as beautiful as a china figurine. Minnie was blessed with impish dark eyes that were such a contrast to her bashful demeanor, black curls, and a smile that revealed one perfect dimple in her left cheek. Only with me, closest to her in size but still larger, able to protect her, did she ever sometimes show curiosity or boldness; once she surprised me by suggesting we creep outside in the middle of the night, to see if there really were fairies living beneath the flowers.

Amused, I took her outside, where we tiptoed, hand in hand, peeking under the forget-me-nots and ferns. While she lifted leaves and petals with dogged optimism, stifling an occasional squeal whenever she happened upon a frog or a startled rabbit, I found my gaze pulled upward. The moon was low and luminous in the night sky; cocking my head, I was just about to make out the face of the man in the moon when Minnie excitedly exclaimed, "Oh, look, Sister! I found one, with green wings!"

She tugged at my sleeve, and I bent down. "It's just a dragonfly," I told her.

"No, it's a fairy, don't you see?"

"I just see a sleepy dragonfly."

"You're not looking at it right, Vinnie. It's as beautiful as a fairy, all green and shimmery. Can't you see it?"

I looked at my sister, her eyes shining brighter than the moon above. Who would have the heart to contradict her?

Growing up, Minnie listened, much more closely than I, to Mama's worries about our safety. Horses were Mama's chief foes; she feared, as long as she lived, that Minnie or I would be trampled or kicked by a stray hoof.

On our behalf, she also feared wells, rain barrels, unsteady tables, large dogs, poison left out for the rats (even after I had long passed the age where I could reasonably be expected not to eat it), doors that latched, broken window sashes, snowdrifts, and falling fireplace logs.

I never understood her terrors. Safe, to me, was exactly where I was; low to the ground, where I became more acquainted with the bottoms of things than the tops. For example, I grew very adept at judging a woman's character or station in life by the hem of her skirt. Tiny, too-perfect stitches or ornate ruffles of course denoted a woman of high class, although not necessarily one of good character. Sloppy, loose, or haphazard stitches didn't always mean that a woman was slovenly in appearance; more often than not, it simply meant that she had so many children and cares she could not spare the time to attend to her own clothing. Those whose skirts sported tiny handprints or burnt patches resulting from too much time in front of the kitchen fire were always the most kindhearted.

Skirts were not the only things with which I was acquainted. Naturally I was more familiar with flowers and weeds than the tops of trees; furniture legs and the unfinished undersides of tables than framed pictures or mirrors. And that is why I never was fearful, why I could not understand my mother's worries; the things with which I was most familiar were the sturdier, more substantial things in life. The legs of the table, the widest part of the tree trunk, the foundation of the house, the things upon which everything else was dependent, upon which everything else was built. These were my world.

What my mother feared most—even more than tables toppling over on either Minnie or myself—was other children.

While she dutifully brought us to church each Sunday, our Christian education ever in her thoughts, my mother was most reluctant to send me to school with my brothers and sister. Fearing merciless teasing, rough play with children who were not accustomed to one my size, she thought it would be best to educate me at home, herself.

I, however, did not share this belief. I'd heard my siblings talk of the wonders of school, of slates and lunch buckets and schoolyard games and the glories of being asked to stay after to wash the blackboard. They came home taunting me with their knowledge, singing multiplication tables and spelling enormous words and pointing to the odd shapes on the globe in the parlor, proudly telling me the names of the continents and oceans.

So when I heard my mother tell my father she thought it best that I stay home with her and the younger children, I stamped my foot with as much authority as a seven-year-old can muster.

"No, Mama, you must allow me to go to school! Aren't I as smart as my brothers and sister? Why shouldn't I go with them, now that I'm old enough? They will look out for me, if that's what you fear."

Mama started to protest, but to my surprise, my father interrupted her.

"Huldah, I am surprised to admit it, but I agree with our Vinnie. She's a sharp little thing, with an intelligence that must be fueled. You could not give her all she needs here. Let her satisfy her curiosity at school, for a life of books is likely all the life she will ever have. It's best we give her that now. She'll have the rest of her days, I'm afraid, to stay home with you."

I was too young to fully understand my father's meaning. I heard only that he wanted me to go to school, and that was all I needed; I threw my arms about him even though I knew he did not appreciate such demonstrations.

"Oh, Papa, I am so very happy! Thank you! I promise I will never make you regret your decision!"

It would be a pretty story, indeed, if I could say that I never did! Yet I have to admit that I was so eager to be allowed my first foray into that large world that I became rather mischievous.

Full of high spirits, so delighted to be where I was, at first I could not be induced to remain in my seat. At the time, you might recall, country school desks were one long table affixed to the perimeter of the room, three-quarters of the way around.

On a dare, I discovered that I was small enough to fit neatly underneath the desk without having to duck my head; basking in the approval of my schoolmates, I took it a step further. Whenever the schoolteacher's back was to us, I would slide off my perch—several large books piled on top of one another—and duck beneath the desk. Then I would run along, barely stifling my giggles as I pinched and poked at my schoolmates' legs: the little girls' sensible woolen pantalets, the boys' worn and patched knees. I was so nimble that they could not catch me; I could run around the entire room and reach the end of the desk almost before the first child had reacted to my lively tugs with a squeak or a squeal.

"Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump," Mr. Dunbar, our teacher, would sputter. "Sit back down immediately!" He would try to catch me, but being the imp that I was, I could elude his grasp easily; he was inclined to heaviness (from the many tarts and pies that the older female students showered upon him), and would flail about, breathing laboriously. By the time he straightened himself up, his face red, his oily hair hanging down upon his forehead, I would be sitting primly in my seat, seemingly oblivious to my classmates' giggles.

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The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 108 reviews.
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
Author Melanie Benjamin immersed herself in autobiographies of Lavinia Warren Bump Scratton and P.T. Barnum, and created a fictional biography based on lots of truth and fact. Lavinia was born normal-sized, but quit growing (or drastically slowed her growth) around one-year of age, and at her full height she stood only 32 inches high. She may have been small in stature, but she was not small in personality. Never content to remain at home and lead a quiet, simple life, Lavinia always dreamed of seeing the world. And thanks to showman P.T. Barnum, that's exactly what she does over her roller-coaster career of ups and downs. During her years with Barnum, a friendship builds, and sometimes it is for him that does things of which she may not agree with or be proud. Eventually she marries General Tom Thumb (aka Charles Stratton), taking on what becomes her most famous role as "Mrs. Tom Thumb". Her husband Charles Stratton was for me perhaps the most real and believable character in the book, although at times quite unlikable given his "weak" personality. Raised by Barnum from childhood, he was molded into a character that he himself began to believe, never quite recognizing he didn't fit into society and was always something of a farce. P.T. Barnum is always a showman, and always looking for a way to turn something into a headline, even if it means exploiting friends. However there is a genuine friendship between him and both Lavinia and Charles. Lavinia's little sister (and when I say "little", I mean both in age and height. Minnie was only 27 inches tall) seems weak and simple and perpetually frightened through most of the book. It isn't until later that you begin to question whether perhaps she was actually the strongest of them all. Well-written and engaging, this book was able to hold me to the end. However there was something about it that bugged me. I've tried to figure it out, and the only word that continually comes to mind is "pretentious" in regards to Lavinia. But despite this being a little off-putting for me, I still enjoyed this story and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and a "novel" novel!
astaKK More than 1 year ago
Great reading, love the history intervoven with the storyline - gave me good visuals as I read. I do wish Nook Color would add accompanying photos or artwork with the book, all I've ever seen is the cover art.
Dumpling More than 1 year ago
I so loved this book!!! A great read about a smart woman with a disability. Couldn't put it down!!
BookwormReflects More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb By Melanie Benjamin At two foot eight inches Mercy Lavinia Bump is the perfect miniature woman. She started out as a school teacher then when she was seventeen she was approached to travel on a boat as a performer, with this first taste of fame she would continue on to become an icon during a time of great unrest. This is a fictional autobiography of the woman who became Mrs. Tom Thumb half of the perfect miniature couple. I almost didn’t make it through this book; the author takes an interesting story and turns it into something dull and annoying. I say annoying due to the fact that Melanie Benjamin turned Lavinia Bump into an egotistical arrogant woman who thought every other little person, including her husband and sister, to be less intelligent than she was. Then there is the main dilemma of the novel which, with a quite glance at wikipedia you will find out what it is, turns out to be absolutely ludicrous. To add to these issues is the fact that Lavinia never loved Tom Thumb but actually P.T. Barnum and never even consummated her wedding, I find this entirely too hard to believe. Melanie Benjamin may be a good writer but this story turned out to be rubbish, and what was with the rant about the polygamist Mormons? Skip it and try google.
JennGrrl More than 1 year ago
Very interesting read. Love how it's based on a real person and real events. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
kopsahl More than 1 year ago
She may have been born normal size (tipping the scales at 6 lbs!), Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, aka Vinnie, quite growing after her first year. She matured in all ways but in height but she more than made up for that by living larger than life and never letting her size keep her from seeing the world. The only thing she didn't allow herself was love. Even though she married Mr. Tom Thumb it was a marriage of convenience and she never let herself fall in love with him or let him know her as a husband should. Heart-warming and heart-wrenching all folded into one this story will take you on a journey of the soul and heart. I was swept up in Vinnie's adventures and tribulations. From her early years as a schoolteacher to her harrowing escape from the squirmy Colonel Wood all the way to her time with the P.T. Barnum we become invested in Vinnie's life. She was always reaching for the next big thing. Her overprotective manner to her sister Minnie comes out of fear of what Vinnie herself won't allow herself to experience and when Minnie sets out on her own we see the vulnerability that hasn't before been allowed to surface in Vinnie. In the end P.T. Barnum said it well with this: "And Minnie-she's different than you, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise. She isn't you, because she's happy. And you're not."pg.~333 I would recommend this book for all historical fiction lovers. The contents of this book will have you flipping pages to see what Minnie will do next. It will also bring you joy and tears (yes..the tears flowed freely). I will definitely be reading other books by Melanie.
Melanie-Ski More than 1 year ago
Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton or 'Vinnie' to her friends and family was an actual woman in history standing a mere 32 inches tall. Prior to reading this novel I hadn't heard Mrs. Tom Thumb. What a delight to learn about her rich history and character through Melanie Benjamin's autobiographical novel. Wow does that seem like a conflict of terms. Vinnie had hoped to write an autobiography of her life, and had taken notes and written journals toward that goal. Her dream was not fulfilled and credit goes to Melanie Benjamin for bringing Vinnie's story to light. As a 'dwarf' she had quite the difficult life just trying to see eye to eye with the world. She was a feisty gal though and by age 16 she was the school marm at the local school after having exceeded at her own schooling. Colonel Wood, a man with dollar signs in his eyes lures Vinnie away under the pretense of her performing and making a big name for herself, only to find herself working on a river boat with other 'misfits'. The world was not kind and Vinnie soon found many reasons that she should have stayed home with her family and her one sister Minnie who was the same size as she. The Civil War ended Vinnie's dreadful showcase and she was able to return home. Still discontent with the boringness of living in a small town she wrote to PT Barnum in the hopes of joining his troupe. She ended up meeting with him, and found in him a friend and confident as well as a true artist in his field. Through Mr. Barnum she met her future husband Charles Stratton, or Mr. Tom Thumb. Another miniature person their marriage appeared to be a match made in heaven, but was in appearance only. Never quite content with her fame, and her size it seemed Vinnie missed out on just living. This was an exciting story with great historical facts and descriptions. Melanie Benjamin brings an old icon into new light for a new generation. It has been fun to meet Vinnie and get to know her and her sister Minnie, one having fame and not fully living, the other to learning contentment and happiness. I loved the relationship dynamics and how Vinnie was able to interact with such an array of characters as she made her debut. The characters were vivid and real and it did indeed feel as if we were reading a true autobiography. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Boncar More than 1 year ago
There are some books that you just hate to see come to an end. For me, this is one of them. Learning what life was like for 32 inch Vinnie during one of the most fascinating times in our country's history is historical fiction at its best. Ms Benjamin lets you see through the eyes of a woman who was ahead of her time and determined to be treated with dignity and respect by all who knew her. Rich writing vivid in detail make this a novel I won't soon forget and will highly recommend.
KhakiKB More than 1 year ago
Once again Ms Benjamin has written an outstanding piece of historical fiction. This is my third Melanie book and I will purchase and enjoy anything else she writes.She makes you really care about the characters and of course teaches a good bit of history as well. Well done!
asomers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This fictional biography has piqued my interest enough to want to know more about the Vinnie Bump Stratton.
gma2lana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first I thought that this was going to be such a great book. The first 100 or so pages were, however, then it became somewhat boring to me and I kept thinking......when is this going to be over. It picks up again in my opinion...but then falls back down towards the end. I was able to finish it, but I could have spent my time reading something a bit more entertaining.
TFS93 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I find the circus fascinating so I was really hoping this book would be one of my new favorites. It just didn't make it there! There was a lot of repetition throughout the book which bogged it down and made it boring. I did enjoy Vinnie's relationship with Minnie and with Barnum. In my opinion those were the best parts of the book. I believe the book could have used a massive dose of editing. The story could have been condensed down into half of its size and actually been better. I would like to read more about Vinnie so I appreciated the author giving a list of books to look into. Benjamin has much potential and most likely I would read her again.
CandyH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely wonderful story and it is well written. The research that went into writing this tale is nothing short of amazing. Ms. Benjamin is an author well worth reading and I applaud her talent. I never even knew Tom Thumb had a wife, so when I saw this book for sale I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed and I highly recommend this book to all who are fans of historical fiction.
julie.billing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book that I picked up rather randomly when I needed a book for the car. I knew absolutely nothing about Lavinnia Ward or Tom Thumb (I thought he was a nursery rhyme character or something). While a lot of it was a novelization, it was still very interesting to see how they lived and all of the fascinating people they met.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Melanie Benjamin¿s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb completes my reading of the three P.T. Barnum/American Museum novels published between June 2010 and August 2011. Mrs. Tom Thumb (July 2011), while being the least focused of the three on day-to-day life in Barnum¿s American Museum, is, in many ways, the most intriguing of the three because of its focus on two of Barnum¿s real life main attractions: Mr. and Mrs. General Tom Thumb. For the record, the other two Barnum novels are: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (June 2010) and Stacy Carlson¿s Among the Wonderful (August 2011).When she was born in 1841, no one expected that Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump would mature into a world famous young woman who would never reach three feet in height ¿ nor that her younger sister was destined to be even smaller than Vinnie. But, as much as the Bump sisters resembled each other physically, they could not have been any more temperamentally different. Vinnie demanded to go to school with her everyone else; her sister was content to stay home with her mother. Vinnie dreamed of seeing the world; her sister could barely imagine a world other than the one she knew within the confines of the Bump family farm.Told in her own words, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, is a chronology of the life of one of the bravest young women of her day. Lavinia Warren, as she came to be known under P.T. Barnum¿s guidance, fought the odds associated with her size and with her gender to become one of the biggest celebrities of the century. Hers was a life of the highest triumph and the lowest personal grief imaginable, but what a life it was.As portrayed in the novel, General Tom Thumb, dubbed so by Barnum, is a rather child-like man barely taller than his 32-inch wife who learns to mimic the ways of those around him. Because Barnum put him in show business when he was only five years old, and he had to pretend to be a young adult even then, Charles Stratton never had a childhood. He learned his ways from Barnum and others with whom he worked and toured ¿ even to mimicking Barnum¿s physical mannerisms. Whether or not Lavinia ever learned to love the little man is open to speculation. What is not subject to question is that she saw marriage to Stratton as the key to the bank vault ¿ and she was right. The wedding of Charles Stratton to Lavinia Warren has, in fact, been called the nineteenth century¿s equivalent of Diana¿s marriage to Prince Charles. It certainly made the pair wealthy, even by modern standards.The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is quite a tale, and Melanie Benjamin tells it well. Readers cannot help but be intrigued by the unique relationships between Lavinia Warren and the two most important men in her life, General Tom Thumb and the boldest American ¿humbugger¿ of all time, Mr. P.T. Barnum.I highly recommend all three of the Barnum novels but, if you only have time for one of them, this is probably your best choice.Rated at: 5.0
stillwaters12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun and interesting to read. Lavinia Warren had a very full, happy life. P.T. Barnum was a good and classy man - a gentleman who promised Lavinia's parents he would take good care of their sheltered, tiny daughter and he lived up to his word completely. Tom Thumb was less defined but he too was a good and well grounded man. I does my heart good to know the "Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb" were not the victims of a freak show but, instead respected, adored and talented entertainers. Nice.
mmignano11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
By its very nature this was a difficult book to read. In many ways it was clever and entertaining. Lavinia Warren Bump (Mrs. Tom Thumb) had many exciting adventures as she traveled all over the world in contract with P.T. Barnum. In the early days, travel was treacherous. The troupe met with bad road conditions, wild animals ,thieves and Indians. Accomodations were primitive. Ms. Bump did not care to be pawed at and her size commented on but she realized that ultimately, this way of life enabled her to live like a queen, and to hobknob with the wealthy. So, while reading of the General and Mrs. Tom Thumb's travel to exotic places and meeting other notable people of the day made the book interesting, there are other factors that made me uncomfortable. Lavinia Bump speaks frankly throughout the book and in many ways has the conventional prejudices of that day and time. She often learns to broaden her views, redeeming herself. Some of her experiences would have been difficult for anyone, but particularly for her because of her size. While it was not always an easy read, it was always interesting. Although, as with many books, I find that it could have used substantial editing about mid-way, where it seemed too long. Much of the story becomes redundant, particularly during her travels with her husband, General Tom Thumb. For the most part, the book is able to give the reader a unique view of the world, from a different time, and a different standpoint in the world, the world of a little person, who lived a very big life.
Kirconnell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I requested this book on the strength of Ms. Benjamin"s name alone. I loved the Alice book and was hoping to find another wonderful experience this time also. However, I approached this book cautiously afraid that luck wouldn't strike twice. I shouldn't have worried, because this is a five star book. Ms Benjamin is such a skilled writer that even though I wasn't looking forward to the subject she sucked me into the story. I became attached to all the characters and laughed and cried along with them as they journeyed through life. I would now buy any book by this author with no qualms at all and that is saying a lot. Recommended.
jcmontgomery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had heard good things about this author and in fact have her other book Alice I Have Been. It seemed a no-brainer that I would really like it. However, it wasn't what I expected.It is an interesting story, don't get me wrong. The subject of the novel is intriguing and Benjamin gives as authentic a voice as she can. It's just that I didn't particularly care for her. Perhaps this is the author's skill, but it just seemed that the narrator, Mercy Lavinia ¿Vinnie¿ Bump (Mrs. Tom Thumb) wants us to know her story, but keeps the reader at a distance. It's just a feeling I got. Also for some reason, I just couldn't connect with Lavinia. But that's just me. This is still a very interesting book to read if one is interested in the era and especially with the history of the circus, especially Barnum's version of it.
Moniica on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Synopsis: Lavinia Warren was born with a rare type of dwarfism where her body is in proportion and yet is unnaturally tiny - Lavinia's body stopped growing when she was only a few years old. However, her mind did not. This is the story of her life as she tries to discover her place in the world as a little person. My Opinion: Some parts were long winded however it was a very interesting story and it was interesting to learn a little bit from behind the scenes of a circus.
berylweidenbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am facinated by the lives of unusual people! This small woman, a perfect minature of a full grown woman at only 32" tall, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump had a "bigger than life" personality! Born before the Civil War and raised on a farm in Massachusetts she nevertheless realized early on that her life would not have many possibilities in Middleborough. She was smart, curious, determined and ambitious and longed to see more of the world. So adventuresome was she that when a "Mr. Wood" arrived at their door claiming to be a relative and inviting her to be part of a traveling riverboat show, she quickly accepted despite her family's abjections. Her time with that company was dangerous, but was brought a welcome to an end by the Civil War. She was never content to "stay home" again however, and that discontent led her to some of greatest experiences of her life! Those experiences are the thrilling adventures you will read about in this book. Sad though, that her one great fear, the thought of dying in childbirth, kept her fro experiencing true love! That seems to be the only "experience" she lacked. What a great life, what a great read!
morningwalker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I began reading with very little background knowledge of the main characters, but I was drawn in so quickly and seamlessly, that from the beginning, I felt this very well could have been the real autobiography, instead of a ficticious account, of the famous Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, aka Mrs. Tom Thumb. The voice the author gives the heroinne is very believable and gives a tangible effect to what her true character might have been. The historical characters and events of the era are woven into the story without bogging it down, and rather than the feeling I was getting a dry history lesson, I was intrigued, and wanted to learn more about these people and their time in history. Perhaps that's what took me a little longer to read it, the fact that I had to frequently stop reading and consult the internet for more information on certain places and happenings throughout the book. I think a good story is one that not only satisfies the reader, but also leads to the desire to learn more. This book did both for me. I will miss being back in the Victorian era when so many things we take for granted today were just being invented, and were still a novelty and a marvel, just as Mrs. Tom Thumb was at that time.
brendajanefrank on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a delightful story! Author Melanie Benjamin took me through the travels and adventures of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, "Vinnie") with the greatest of ease. The triumphs and tragedies of Vinnie's life with the General Charles Stratton (a.k.a. Tom Thumb) and their dear friend Phineas T. Barnum make captivating reading. Facts form the skeleton of "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb," but the skill and talent of Benjamin give it life. We experience the feelings of Vinnie living in a world where, at 32 inches tall, she lived in an ocean of legs, feet and skirts, only being able to observe her surroundings when held up by a person of normal height or perched on a stage or piece of furniture. Vinnie was a person of normal size, emotions and intelligence trapped in the body of a dwarf. Her abnormality never hampered her motivation and ambitions, nor did the constraints of the era which limited the possibilities of most women. Vinnie used her dignity and presence to command respect, despite her diminutive size. Vinnie had the good fortune to have been "found" by one of the greatest showmen of the times, P.T. Barnum. With Barnum, she traveled the world, socialized with high society, met presidents and royalty, and became acquainted with her husband, General Tom Thumb, another Barnum prodigy. Not only was Barnum a promoter extraordinaire, he was Vinnie's good friend who kept her concerns and well-being paramount during her "theatrical" activities and in public life. I feel lucky to have received this plum from the Amazon Vine program and recommend it as an excellent work of historical fiction.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
f you don't see the ¿A Novel¿ part of the title, don't confuse this novel for an autobiography or a biography. Ms. Benjamin (aka Melanie Hauser) has taken the bits of available knowledge about Mrs. General Tom Thumb's life, and woven it into a fictionalized and highly entertaining story. Apparently, the actual autobiography read more like a travelogue and was a bit boring.At 32¿ full-grown, Vinnie did not want to be defined by her size, wanted to make her own way in the world. Unfortunately, there were few options for almost all women other than housewife, school teacher, or spending a life dependent on family. It was no comfort when a doctor consulted by her parents when she was a child likened Vinnie to ¿an excellent example of Nature's Occasional Mistakes.¿ ¿He assured my increasingly distressed parents that this was not a bad thing, for it made the world a much more interesting place, just as the occasional two-headed toad and one-eyed kitten did.¿ How strange that a woman who didn't want to be defined by her size ended up with a career based solely on her size. And that her marriage, from her point of view anyway, was little more than a publicity stunt. Stunt or not, Vinnie became Mrs. Colonel Tom Thumb. And she dragged her even tinier sister, Minnie, into the farce as well.I very much enjoyed this book. However, I don't think I would have liked Vinnie very much, at least not as she was portrayed. She was very adamant about being treated as an adult woman should be, yet she treated her sister, and then her husband, as though they were children. She was bossy and sometimes demanding, often judgmental when she hated being judged herself. Vinnie was complex and full of contradictions.There were some writing quirks that bothered me a bit. I don't know how many times Vinnie mentioned her tiny, delicate, well-manicured hands, but after the third or so time, it became annoying. And Vinnie had a habit of giving us, the readers, intimations of what were going to come. Some outcomes were too predictable, even to someone like me who knows nothing of Vinnie's actual life. All in all, this is a highly readable and entertaining story, but falls a little short of my expectations.I was given an advance reader's edition of this book and the quotes may change in the final edition.
MargaretdeBuhr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book - fun to read and learn about a time period and American culture that I knew very little about.. The main character, Vinnie, is a dwarf who despite her lifelong desire to be treated as a normal person, makes both her career and marriage in a world where she is regarded as a circus oddity. She gains amazing power and social status among the elite of that time period. Sad that her marriage was such a sham. This is one of the best books that I have recceived from Advanced Readers Edition.