I love fictional novels based on real people, especially if the author has actually done their homework and weaved that knowledge into the story. Melanie Benjamin is great at doing just that. Her first novel, Alice I have Been, is terrific, but it’s her second book, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, that I want to tell you about. This novel mixes fact and fiction to tell the story of Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump, a 2’8″ woman who became one of the most famous people in American in the 1860’s.
Lavinia and her sister Minnie were both born with a form of dwarfism that made them proportional correct only small. At the age of 16 Lavinia became a school teacher, but she wanted to do and be much more than that. She found she loved entertaining and first worked as a dancer on a showboat cruising down the Mississippi River.
Later she was hired by the famous showman P.T. Barnum where she quickly rose to fame along side her future husband General Tom Thumb. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb became world-wide celebrities. They hobnobbed with royalty, traveled the word and were even honored at the White House by President and Mrs. Lincoln.
The author does a marvelous job of immersing the reader into the Gilded Age and letting us take a peek into what was at a times a difficult life and at other times quite a glamorous one. I was especially excited to learn more about the great impresario P.T. Barnum a fascinating character in his own right.
This book is really one of my all time favorites. I recommend it highly and I hope that another fascinating woman is getting fictionalized by Ms. Benjamin very soon!