I will be completely honest here. I didn’t even know that Tom Thumb was a real person. As far as I knew, Tom Thumb was no more than the character in a book of old fairy tales that was on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf when I was growing up. So I certainly didn’t know that there was a Mrs. Tom Thumb.
Author Melanie Benjamin has fictionalized the life stories of a number of famous people, including Anne Morrow Lindbergh (the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and herself an author and aviator) in The Aviator’s Wife; and Hollywood legends Mary Pickford and Frances Marion in The Girls in the Picture. Benjamin seems to do a very good job of researching her characters, at least based on the information I gleaned from Wikipedia as a read The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel.
Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump was born in Massachusetts in 1841. She was one of two daughters born to loving parents. She was exceptional in that she was 2.66 feet tall and weighed 29 lbs. as an adult. She was what is referred to as a proportionate dwarf, meaning that while extremely small, her extremities were proportionate to her size. Her sister Minnie was even tinier.
It being the mid-1800s, opportunities for all women were scarce, and for a woman the size of a large doll, the prospects would seem to be even direr. Nevertheless, she became a teacher, and was quite successful. And yet, she was bored with her life. Her desire to travel took her down an unfortunate road until she met the famed showman P.T. Barnum. Barnum had already made a very successful career for Charles Sherwood Stratton, better known as General Tom Thumb, and also a proportionate dwarf.
The two eventually fell in love and married, in what was the wedding of the year in New York City. The story of their fame, their career, their relationship to Barnum, and their life in the spotlight was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. I simply couldn’t put the book down. I was grateful to be reading the novel as an e-book because I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I stopped to look up some information about Lavinia Warren (which became her stage name), Gen. Tom Thumb, P.T. Barnum, and the other performers who they loved like family. The most amazing thing about their lives was how their fame allowed them to rub shoulders with high society in 1900 New York City.
I read the book just before seeing the The Greatest Showman – the movie about P.T. Barnum – and it was fun to be familiar with some of the characters in that movie.
I heartily recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. While it is important to keep in mind that it is fiction, the book was wonderfully researched and incredibly readable.