- It’s a novel, not an actual autobiography. Despite the fact that the title says ‘A Novel,’ some people still don’t quite get it.
- While Mrs. Tom Thumb – Lavinia Warren Stratton, known as Vinnie – did write some essays intended to be published as an autobiography, it never was in her lifetime. In the 1970s a man named A. H. Saxon compiled and published them. While they were helpful to me in providing details, they were frustrating in all they didn’t reveal – namely, she never wrote of her actual emotions and frustrations, and she left out much of her personal life. It was these omissions that inspired me to fictionalize her amazing story.
- I wrote this novel out of desperation; I had a novel under contract that I just couldn’t finish, and had to scramble to find a new subject.
- Vinnie’s name leaped out at me from a list of famous women of the Victorian era.
- I first read about her, though, in the pages of E. L. Doctorow’s RAGTIME, one of my favorite novels.
- After typing the word “autobiography” approximately 5 million times now, I still rarely get it right on the first try.
- This novel should not be confused with the “Tom Thumb” chain of grocery stores in Texas!
- P. T. Barnum, Vinnie’s great friend and a major character in the book, never actually said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
- While Barnum is mainly remembered for his circus, he was first famous for his American Museum, the Disney World of its day.
- Vinnie was thirty-two inches tall; her sister Minnie, twenty-eight.
- I will be taking a tape measure with me on tour, to illustrate this!
- The type of dwarfism that Vinnie had was proportionate dwarfism; she was perfectly proportioned, just very tiny. This kind of dwarfism is usually the result of a pituitary disorder, and today would be treated with human growth hormones. Thus, if she was born today, Vinnie would grow well past her thirty-two inches, and probably not be considered a dwarf at all.
- Her type of dwarfism was highly prized and admired during the 19th century because she was not considered “unpleasant to look at.” Achondroplasia dwarfism – the kind that most people are familiar with today – was, unfortunately, considered distasteful. While achondroplasia dwarfs performed in the circus during the same time Vinnie performed with it, they were most often used in clown acts, or to depict savages.
- While Vinnie remarried after Charles Stratton’s death – to another little person – and became the Countess Magri, to the end of her life she signed her letters, “Mrs. General Tom Thumb.”
About Melanie Benjamin
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. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second release. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.
You can visit her online at www.melaniebenjamin.com.
About The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
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.