Friday, November 25, 2011

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer

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.

                                           - from the Goodreads summary

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel was outstanding. Using the bare bones of Mrs. Tom Thumb’s actual memoir, Melanie Benjamin turns tiny Vinnie Warren into a fully articulated person. Far from being an exploited sideshow attraction, Vinnie actively pursues a life on stage, joining forces with P.T. Barnum to create insatiable public interest in her life. Benjamin’s thesis is that Vinnie is deeply in love with Barnum and, understanding that they will never marry, is mostly content to be his confidante and equal. For Barnum, she is willing to marry General Tom Thumb, whose fame and size are his only recommendations. Vinnie persuades her shy and naïve sister Minnie to join her on tour, completing a quartet of “little people” for the public’s amazement. Smarter than almost everyone around her (with the notable exception of Barnum), Vinnie convinces herself that what she does, she does for the good of all, but she, like Barnum, has an addiction to manipulation.

Vinnie and Minnie were both born normal-sized, and grew normally until the age of two, when they simply stopped getting taller. They were perfectly proportioned, just tiny. I knew from the prologue that Minnie had died in childbirth, and that was one of the most interesting parts of the story. Vinnie had always refused to consummate her marriage to Tom Thumb, fearing that pregnancy would likely produce a full-sized infant, since she was 6 pounds at birth. Minnie convinced herself that two small people would certainly have a “fairy-sized” baby and got pregnant. She weighed less than 30 pounds and stood less than 30 inches and carried the baby to term. Doctors only attempted C-sections after the mother was past saving, so Minnie labored until she died and then they cut the baby out of her and it didn’t survive. The doctors had recommended that Minnie abort the baby and she had refused. I boggled at the logistics of carrying and delivering a baby that weighed 1/5th of your body weight and was more than 1/2 of your length. I do believe that YIKES is the only correct term I can use in a family-friendly spot like this. (Yes, C-sections, giant baby heads and little tiny pelvic areas, and little cows being torn apart are totally family-friendly, so hush.)


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