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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB By Melanie Benjamin August 22, 2011

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.

     It took the Lycan Librarian a few chapters to get into this book, the story of one Miss Lavinia Warren Bump, who considered her last name a greater burden than her 32 inch stature. Vinnie worked for Barnum in the mid 1800s and married the towering 40 inch General Tom Thumb in a “royal ceremony”  which was a bit of a sham as the couple shared more intimacy onstage than in private. Vinnie’s show career began on a dark note when she was employed  as a showboat freak by   a man named Colonel Wood. The book is  strong because Benjamin displayed both the story and the delusions of the little woman who firmly believed she was famous for her singing and personality, not her height. But the book is also weak, due to the fact it was written as an autobiography rather than a historical novel. If it were told from Vinnie’s point of view, we still could have been able to peer into Barnum’s world. As written, all we see is what the self-centered, sheltered little woman saw. The syrupy sweetness of Vinnie and her little sister, Minnie, is far too cloying, and this reader felt too much of the book was dedicated to their family life. I quickly understand the familiar relationships, but was anxious to see the parts of the girls’ professional lives that were, unfortunately, brief and underpainted in this novel. I spent most of my time with this book waiting for the parts I really wanted to read. They did not arrive. My complaints about  this book exhibit, perfectly, my reasons for not normally reading autobiographies.It would have also been a nice touch, since it is a fictional autobiography, to include more photos. Photos overflow in biographies, but in this selection there is only one, of Lavinia standing alone, in the front of the book. It would have been fitting for Lavinia, who enjoyed dressing to impress, to include numerous photos in her autobiography. 

     The author included “Intermissions” between chapters, which were a clever touch, and presented historical facts, but most actually added little to the story and did not always seem to relate to it except in time. There were also long stretches of political discussions about the war. Granted, the characters would be affected by the conflict, but this is not a novel about the Civil War.

     Yes, there were some interesting parts, such as the chapter that told how Barnum borrowed babies from orphanages to play the role of  the couple’s child. Before the show left for a new destination, the babies were left behind like the abandoned props they were.

     This book appears to be getting good reviews, but this reader found it a bit tedious to get through, and cannot recommend it as she was left disappointed and unsure if she’s glad she took the time to read it.



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