Cover image for We are all his creatures : tales of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman
Title:
We are all his creatures : tales of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman
ISBN:
9780763659813
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
266 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Contents:
The mermaid (1842) -- The mysterious arm (1842) -- Returning a bloom to its bud (1845) -- Beside myself (1851) -- We will always be sisters (1852) -- The fairy wedding (1863) -- An extraordinary specimen of magnified humanity (1865) -- The Bearded Lady's son (1868) -- It's not humbug if you believe it (1869) -- All elephants are tragic (1889) -- What makes you think we want you here? (1891).
Summary:
Much has been written about P. T. Barnum -- legendary showman, entrepreneur, marketing genius, and one of the most famous nineteenth-century personalities. For those who lived in Barnum's shadow, however, life was complex. P. T. Barnum's two families -- his family at home, including his two wives and his daughters, and his family at work, including Little People, a giantess, an opera singer, and many sideshow entertainers -- suffered greatly from his cruelty and exploitation. Yet, at the same time, some of his performers, such as General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), became wealthy celebrities who were admired and feted by presidents and royalty. In this collection of interlinked stories illustrated with archival photographs, Deborah Noyes digs deep into what is known about the people in Barnum's orbit and imagines their personal lives, putting front and center the complicated joy and pain of what it meant to be one of Barnum's "creatures."
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Summary

Summary

In a series of interwoven fictionalized stories, Deborah Noyes gives voice to the marginalized women in P. T. Barnum's family -- and the talented entertainers he built his entertainment empire on.

Much has been written about P. T. Barnum -- legendary showman, entrepreneur, marketing genius, and one of the most famous nineteenth-century personalities. For those who lived in Barnum's shadow, however, life was complex. P. T. Barnum's two families -- his family at home, including his two wives and his daughters, and his family at work, including Little People, a giantess, an opera singer, and many sideshow entertainers -- suffered greatly from his cruelty and exploitation. Yet, at the same time, some of his performers, such as General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), became wealthy celebrities who were admired and feted by presidents and royalty. In this collection of interlinked stories illustrated with archival photographs, Deborah Noyes digs deep into what is known about the people in Barnum's orbit and imagines their personal lives, putting front and center the complicated joy and pain of what it meant to be one of Barnum's "creatures."


Author Notes

Deborah Noyes writes nonfiction and fiction for young readers and adults. Her books include One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals, The Ghosts of Kerfol, Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original Girl Reporter Nellie Bly, and Encyclopedia of the End: Mysterious Death in Fact, Fancy, Folklore, and More. She has also compiled and edited the short story anthologies Gothic!, The Restless Dead, and Sideshow.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--This collection of connected short stories is a look into the behind-the-scenes life of P.T. Barnum, focusing on his family and the "living curiosities" who performed for him. The chronologically organized vignettes paint a picture of a profit-driven opportunist who capitalized on the imagination of his inner child and the public's fascination with the eccentric until Barnum's death at age 80. The stories are rich in detail and place the reader in the mid-1800s, when industry regulations were few (Barnum's American Museum burned down more than once) and high society was often unabashedly captivated by other people's misfortunes. The most affecting tales are those that involve Barnum's daughters and how they each adjusted to being the progeny of a famous and unconventional figure. Noyes follows them from childhood through adulthood and deftly ties their narratives together in the final chapter. While Barnum has been criticized for exploiting his performers, that issue is not explored significantly in the stories. As these accounts are fictionalized, readers are left to decide for themselves how much truth each piece holds. VERDICT An entertaining, absorbing look at the prominent figures in Barnum's life that will appeal to his fans and history buffs in general. Recommended.--Melissa Kazan, Horace Mann School, NY


Publisher's Weekly Review

Proceeding chronologically from 1842 to Barnum's death in 1891, this collection of 11 intertwined stories from Noyes (Tooth & Claw) imagines the inner lives of real people from the Barnum family and business, with the ambitious, exploitative P.T. Barnum serving as a decentered fulcrum. Eight "marginalized women"--miserable wives, neglected daughters, conflicted members of his exhibitions, and a fictitious paid companion to the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind--provide the focus for as many stories, while General Tom Thumb (a little person born Charlie Stratton), President Lincoln's eldest son Robert, and a fictional teenaged son of a bearded lady comprise the male protagonists. The dramatis personae may be dissimilar, but each story, conveyed in the third-person perspective, emphasizes the central character's emotional isolation. Rarely does the figure reconcile with their lot in life, lending a bleak tone to the narrative. Though character development is spare, and a puzzling subplot featuring a ghost is left unresolved, these stories vividly engage with their period images ("her knuckles... were the color of new cream"), providing a picture of what life with Barnum might have been like: "We are all his creatures." B&W photos. Ages 14--up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Mar.)


Kirkus Review

Noyes (Tooth and Claw, 2019, etc.) explores P.T. Barnum's career from the perspectives of his family members, performers, and acquaintances.Barnum, the "Prince of Humbug," rose to fame by exhibitingand exploitinga collection of human and animal "wonders." But here, Jumbo the elephant and the Fejee mermaid aren't the showman's only "creatures." In 11 intertwined, third-person stories spanning from 1842 to 1891, the author imagines the perspectives of those in Barnum's narcissistic shadowfrom his belittled, overwhelmed wives and overlooked daughters to such celebrated performers as the little person Charlie Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb, who pays for his fame by losing his identity. The disparate cast is united by similar themes: loneliness; the simultaneously empowering and disempowering nature of performing; and the pressures of living in the public eye. Though the stories create a vivid, dark impression of Barnum's personality, many other characters' development is shallow and disjointed. Further details of characters' lives are scattered among other characters' stories, and keeping track of the crowded cast across a multigenerational time span is an occasionally taxing, ultimately underwhelming exercise. Several characters' fates are rather abruptly summarized, and expository prose and dialogue dull poignant emotions and backstories. A slightly supernatural plot thread is left dangling. Most characters appear to be white. Archival photographs introduce each story.An earnest but unfocused glimpse behind the curtain of Barnum's career. (author's note, image credits) (Historical fiction. 13-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Excerpts

Excerpts

August 1842, New York City Mother snored on the daybed. There was a mermaid swimming just upstairs somewhere, in the museum, and Mother snored. Caroline lifted her mother's heavy arm to tug out the news sheet, letting it drop again. The mermaid was in the paper today. Daddy's museum was often in the news, but more so since the ladyfish arrived. Her father had read the article aloud over breakfast. An engraving showed the creature at rest on a rock beside two elegant sister mermaids. She stared into a hand mirror, and her breasts were bare. Caroline knew Mother was scandalized by the set of her mouth and the way she blew on her tea to avoid their eyes. "Questions?" she chirped, in a tone that warned, don't ask . Caroline shrugged. Though she was nine and Helen two, they saw breasts all the time --​Mother's, while baby Frances sucked. When their mother fed Frances right at the breakfast table that morning, Daddy had called her a "fishwife." At first, this confused Caroline. Did he mean Charity Barnum was the ladyfish, the same mermaid on display upstairs? But how? Mother mostly stood by the window or dozed on the daybed, as now, but she never left their sight. And when she unfastened her dressing gown to feed Frances, her bosom did not in any way resemble the graceful mermaids'.   Caroline knew to guard her questions. She would rather solve them herself when she could, and Madge had used the same word last week, only differently. Fishwife meant "common," Caroline deduced with pride. But this morning she had another question, one she couldn't answer herself. Daddy replied with his back to her, riffling through a pile of contracts. "It's the medicine." Answers made more questions sometimes, especially Daddy's answers, but with his back to her, he couldn't see her furrowed brow. He had found the page he was looking for and scanned it triumphantly, crushing the paper in his hands. "That's what makes her sleep so much." He looked up sympathetically. "The medicine." Whatever was on the paper had brightened his mood. Daddy felt sorry for his "wild three," he confided, kneeling by them, but "for the old girl's sake"-- ​he pointed his dimpled chin at Mother on the lounge --"you'll have to keep your voices down today." He paused over the cradle to fuss with Frances's blanket. Daddy hated baby talk (there was altogether too much "pootsy-​wootsy mamby-​pamby" spoken to children, he maintained) but resorted to it now to make his point. "Let my girls be doves"-- ​he looked back at them --"and coo like this --​ coo, coo, coo --​ until she wakes." Two of three ­Barnum daughters cooed on command until Helen broke off, boldly asking the real question: "But when will Mother get up?" A Helen question was a thorn lodged in your thumb. You carried it around until someone saw your discomfort and removed it. Daddy admired her candor --​yet another reason Caroline often itched to slap Helen or shake her; however clever she might be, Helen was young enough to fall for the same games over and over. Look into my hand, Caroline would coax, opening a fist. Closer . . . see? You trust me, right? Slap, slap. Daddy tied a silk cravat at his throat. The hired girl would be here soon, he said. Madge came mornings to tidy and heat broth for their lunch. Sometimes, when Frances wailed for no reason and Mother shut herself in her room after Daddy left for the day, Madge bounced the furious infant round the house on her hip. "Colic," she'd say, scowling at Mother's door. "You said after this week we would never drink broth again," Helen observed with her air of being disappointed in advance. Daddy said it made her sound more like the old men who played chess outside Philosophers' Hall, his favorite barbershop, than a child. "You said we'd dine with the Astors." "And I am a man of my word." He chucked Helen's chin --​dimpled, like his. Everyone said they looked alike, while Caroline had Mother's sleepy eyes if not her underwater slowness --​no mermaid moved like Mother. Mermaids were bullet swift. Unless you had Daddy's promises in writing, Mother said, he rarely kept them, and anyway he made everything up. Unlike those of the boys in school stories --​who tied your braid to the back of your chair --​his jokes were on whole cities. All of New York suffered Daddy's whims and hoaxes, and he had crowned himself the Prince of Humbug. "Receipts tripled this week, my girls." With his document tucked under an arm, he bent to kiss their foreheads. Caroline winced when he gave the cradle a shove so sleeping Frances tipped on roily seas. "Our ladyfish will extend her stay." Caroline sat on her hands. It did not do to betray enthusiasm. "Please let me see the mermaid?" she blurted. "Is she beautiful like the picture?" She had other questions, too. Were the mermaid's scales as sharp as steel blades? Did you have to cover your ears when she sang or be deafened? But Mr. Barnum was needed at the office. "Proceeds will not count themselves." He tipped his hat. "I would like to see the mermaid also," Helen added, almost too quietly to be heard. Caroline gasped. The audacity. Daddy despised repetition. But he turned his wrath on her, not Helen. He leaned on Caroline's chair arms and nearly knocked his forehead against hers while she held admirably still. "Nownownow," he teased with a mean twinkle in his eye -- in the same tsk voice he sometimes used on Mother, who withdrew into herself like a duck into its feathers -- ​and out he went, the hall door clicking shut behind him. Patience is a virtue. Excerpted from We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman by Deborah Noyes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

The Mermaid (1842)p. 1
The Mysterious Arm (1842)p. 21
Returning a Bloom to Its Bud (1845)p. 51
Beside Myself (1851)p. 75
We Will Always Be Sisters (1852)p. 107
The Fairy Wedding (1863)p. 129
An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity (1865)p. 151
The Bearded Lady's Son (1868)p. 183
It's Not Humbug If You Believe It (1869)p. 205
All Elephants Are Tragic (1889)p. 221
What Makes You Think We Want You Here? (1891)p. 245
A Note about the Storiesp. 269
Image Creditsp. 273