Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb

The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb

Melanie Benjamin

Delacorte Press

448 pages

I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life. Popular memoirs of our time suggest a certain reticence is expected, particularly when the author is female. We women are timid creatures, after all; we must retire behind a veil of secrecy and allow others to tell our story.

To that, I can only reply “Rubbish!” I have let others–one other, in particular–tell my story for far too long.  Now is the time to set the record straight, to sort out the humbug from the truth, and vice versa.

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump is a provincial girl living with her family during the 1800’s.  Her life is typical of the time and place, but for the fact that she is miniature.  Lavinia, or Vinnie, as she is called, is just over two feet tall and, unlike many dwarfs, her proportions are normal, just in miniature.  Vinnie and her sister miniature Minnie are both guarded and protected by their family, but Vinnie is not happy to be shielded from the world.  Instead, she is yearning to see what is out there and she refuses to be stymied by her size.

Vinnie grasps at the first escape she has, when a strange man claiming to be a relative shows up at the Bump home to woo Vinnie onto his boat of “spectacles”.  Vinnie spends the next few years dealing with unsavory situations and people as she performs upon the boat, but even after she leaves, her desire to see the world is still strong.   Despite the reservations of her family, Vinnie contacts PT Barnum in an attempt to become a part of his museum of curiosities.

Vinnie’s life quickly becomes a whirlwind.  She is invited to New York by Barnum and just a few weeks later she is married to General Tom Thumb, another “person in miniature”, and the two take the world by storm.

I knew before I even finished the first page of this book that I would be engrossed throughout.  Vinnie’s character intrigued me, and although I didn’t always agree with her actions and decisions, her flaws were real to me.

Benjamin did an amazing job taking people long dead and ascribing personalities to them based on what history has recalled.  I have no idea whether Tom Thumb was as naive and childlike as Benjamin portrayed him, or whether Vinnie was as shrewd and irascible as she seemed.  But regardless, Benjamin made me care.  The whole nation was enamored by them at one point, but their true selves remained hidden from the public, so what Benjamin did was take two obscure, mysterious people and bring them to life.

Given how much I loved this book, I can’t wait to read Alice I Have Been!

Other Reviews:

Lit and Life

The Novel World

I purchased this book from Borders.

8 Responses

  1. This is the second review I have read for this book today and both were glowing! I really hadn’t planned on reading this book but after reading both reviews, I am putting this on my wish list. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I’ve read Alice I Have Been and really enjoyed it, so I’m glad to hear this one is good too. It sounds like a fascinating story!

  3. I bought this book on release date, so I’m glad to see it’s so good!

  4. Thanks for this review. It’s a book I’ve been considering!

  5. I wasn’t really considering this one before reading your thoughts… sounds like one I might enjoy.

  6. I really need to read this! I was always fascinated by them when I was younger (I really have no idea why, although it seems to have coincided with my love for the song Thumbalina). I loved that you liked Vinnie in spite of her flaws – that’s very tricky for authors to manage and I love when they do!

  7. Aaahh. I keep hearing about this one, and the reviews have me intrigued.

  8. Yea! I’m the same way–can’t wait to read “Alice I Have Been” now that I’ve read this one. Absolutely loved it!

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