Remarkable Courtship of Gen. Tom Thumb

Meet Diane Lick, a new MO Books reviewer. Diane says she will read just about anything, including cereal boxes at the breakfast table. Her favorite genres are historical fiction and non-fiction history.

Fostering literacy is Diane’s passion. After retiring from teaching, Diane became very active with the Friends of the Washington Public Library, serving as President for two years. She currently volunteers at the library.

Diane also has worked with the YMCA Adult Literacy Program. She enjoys spending time with her six grandchildren and sharing great children’s literature with them. When she’s not reading, which is rare, Diane likes playing bridge and doing needlework.

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“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time plays many roles,” from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

This famous quote could be the theme for “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb.” Rinaldi begins his story when P.T Barnum discovers four-year-old Charles Stratton and quickly gives him the role of “General Tom Thumb, the Smallest Man in the Known World” as he headlines Barnum’s American Museum’s 100,000 curiosities.

Fast forward to 1861; the Civil War is about to start and Charlie/Tom Thumb has been on the road for 17 years. He is beginning to wonder who he is and what is ahead in life for him; could there really be a woman who would love a man only 35 inches tall? He is weary of performing and thinking of quitting the stage, but to do what?

A few years later, Barnum hires a new performer, 32 inch tall Lavinia Warren. It’s love at first sight. Barnum provides Lavinia and Tom with a fairy tale wedding and reception In New York City. Shortly thereafter the couple set out on an adventurous tour through Canada, the war torn US, and finally on to London, playing out their wedding role at each stop. At last the war ends and they set sail for home…perhaps to a new role.

This reader did enjoy this work of historical FICTION. (The emphasis on fiction is my own.) The author weaves a tale of two little people caught up in the big stage of the American Civil War. They lead a fairy tale life offering a snapshot of this terrifying and destructive time in American history.

The book is a swiftly paced story with an important historical cast of characters and settings. I felt however, that much of it was like a Barnum performance—a skit with little depth; a moment’s enjoyment to lure one’s thoughts from the trials of everyday life.

If the author’s purpose was to show us Tom and Lavinia as real little people playing the roles that Barnum created for them, he did a fine job. There were many times where the author gave a glimpse of the real Charlie and his questions about life, what it means to be small in a world made for big people and have to search for love and acceptance, the price one pays for giving up privacy for fame; but we are left to our own imagination, or to more reading on the subject, to find those answers.