The long reign and reach of Britain’s Queen Victoria left its mark all over the world. While parlors overflowed with ruffles, lace and flowers, and proper ladies and gentlemen played whist, sang at the pianoforte, or read romantic poetry aloud, smoking rooms, public houses, and universities birthed a new era of thought. Darwin. Marx. Freud. Literature reflected much of what happened outside the parlors of the proper, resulting in the realism of George Eliot, the satire of William Thackeray, the fantasy of George McDonald and the skeptic poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson. Our topic of the week for September 5-9 is Victorian Voices. We’ll pull back the drapes, lift the veils and look into Victorian literature with New Millennium eyes.
This Friday, September 9, #litchat welcomes back Melanie Benjamin as guest host. Last year’s, Alice I Have Been, gave the Alice Liddell of Lewis Carroll’s inspiration a voice of her own. Her latest novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, once again employs Benjamin’s gift for the Victorian voice. Those familiar with the fairytale story of Vinnie Bump, the tiny woman who married the miniature man called Tom Thumb, will treasure this novel about this pair of petite performers. Looming large in this story about showboats and show-offs, civil war and civil society, freaks and failures, is P.T. Barnum. Although Vinnie gains fame on the coattails of her advantageous marriage to the tiny Tom Thumb, her relationship with P.T. Barnum takes the center ring in this novel of Victorian-era glitz, glamour and glut.
Melanie Benjamin was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. An avid reader all her life—as a child, she was the proud winner, several years running, of the summer reading program at her local library—she still firmly believes that a lifetime of reading is the best education a writer can have.
While attending Purdue University at Indianapolis, Melanie performed in many community theater productions before meeting her husband, moving to the Chicago area and raising two sons. Writing was always beckoning, however, and soon she began writing for local magazines and newspapers before venturing into her first love, fiction. As Melanie Hauser, she published two contemporary novels.
By incorporating her passion for history and biography, Melanie, now writing as Melanie Benjamin, has finally found her niche writing historical fiction, concentrating on the “stories behind the stories.” Having recently signed a contract with Random House for two more historical novels, she is currently at work on her third.
She and her family still live in the Chicago area; when she’s not writing, she’s gardening, taking long walks, rooting for the Cubs—And reading, of course.
Follow Melanie Benjamin on Twitter: @MelanieBen.