Monday, October 21, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 181: P. T. Barnum, In France (#15)

P. T. Barnum, "In France" (1869) from Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology:

In his autobiography Struggle and Triumphs, Barnum tells of his visit to Paris with "General" Tom Thumb, the dwarf performer. This part of Barnum's story clearly falls into the "triumph" category for him: they went to court and met important royalty; Barnum got a French official to accept a set amount of money instead of a percentage for his first two months of the show; and then he argued that he should pay the lower tax rate for dramatic entertainment rather than the higher rate for exhibiting natural curiosities and freaks; and he got people interested in Tom Thumb by exhibiting him in parade and by getting him mentioned in important papers.

But even Barnum knows that all this wasn't just due to his cleverness. As he says, the French are naturally prone to this sort of furor. So there were songs, journalism, parody, statuary (in both edible and non-edible forms), all centered on Tom Thumb. It's an interesting and short view of what culture was like and how certain ideas might jump from one medium to another; it's the 19th century version of an internet trend.

Now if only we had Tom Thumb's account; and a wider account of what else was going on in Paris at this time and how long this craze really lasted. For some reason, I don't entirely trust Barnum...

No comments:

Post a Comment