Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb"

Melanie Benjamin's first historical novel is Alice I Have Been.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb, her second historical novel, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“You bet, little lady,” someone shouted, and there was a general stirring and creaking as people took their seats. It was a sound I would grow to recognize, the contented sound of an audience settling in, ready to be entertained. But at that moment, I noted it with only exquisite relief, for soon my humiliation would be over.

I nodded at Mr. James, who began the lively military introduction for “The Soldier’s Wedding.” With clenched fists, I held on to my skirts in an effort to keep myself from toppling over.

’Give me your hand, my own Jeanette,’” I sang with determined force, and soon the audience was clapping along. Somehow I got through the song, I know not how, although Mr. James told me later that I had smiled the entire time. As soon as I was finished, I smoothed my skirts, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the keyboard, then the piano bench, then finally the floor; I couldn’t wait to leave that stage.

The roar started; from the back of the audience it came, a deafening sound that made me clasp my hands over my ears. It was applause; my first ovation, and it was a sound I would never forget. Utterly astounded, I somehow found the presence of mind to curtsy, my hand over my heart, as if I was, indeed, Miss Jenny Lind.

A little smile tickled my lips as I turned around to go back through the curtains, passing Colonel Wood. But that dastardly man actually kicked at me as I walked by, laughing to see me jump in fright.

“That’s not the last you’ve heard from me about that slap, little missy. I won’t be made a fool of on my own stage, especially not by a dwarf,” he hissed, before turning back around to quiet the still roaring audience.
This is a perfect encapsulation of Vinnie’s story, actually. It’s a description of her very first appearance before the public, which began very differently than she had anticipated. Expecting simply to perform and sing, she found, instead, that the rough crowd was crudely curious about her size. When this section begins, she has quieted them down and finally begins to sing. And just as she discovers the approval of applause, the glow of being adored, she’s reminded, again, of the cruelties awaiting someone her size. This conflict – is she loved because of her size, or mocked? Is she prized because she has talent, or simply because she’s a “curiosity?” - is central to her story throughout the book. She both deludes herself into thinking people do not see her as a dwarf, and trades on that very fact in order to find approval and fortune. And page 69 of The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb perfectly reflects this conundrum.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website. Her first historical novel is Alice I Have Been.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue