Book Review: We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman by Deborah Noyes (2020)

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

This could have been spectacular.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley.)

“Never is the joke on you, my boy. Remember that. The power is yours. Count your worth in coins.”

As an afterthought, he added, “Your parents certainly do.”

“We have very few pictures of any of us.” She lifted one of the many cabinet cards of General Tom Thumb bubble shooter gratis herunterladen. “Papa always liked them better.”

The subtitle of We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman is a bit misleading, as the eleven loosely connected short stories gathered in these pages are only marginally about PT Barnum. Rather, Noyes concerns herself with the people trapped in Barnum’s orbit, and imagines how his actions might have affected them.

Naturally, this is a pretty complicated subject: while Barnum arguably created gainful (and even profitable) means of employment for disabled folks who, in some cases, were considered “burdens” on their families, his exhibits leaned into racist, sexist, and albeist tropes, thus perpetuating the bigotry that drove many of Barnum’s performers into his arms. Though he was an outspoken abolitionist later in life, Barnum quite literally built his career on the back of Joice Heth, an elderly African-American slave who Barnum purchased and exhibited as “the 161-year-old nursing mammy of George Washington.” He even exploited Heth in death, offering her body up for a public, for-pay autopsy to “prove” her age and authenticity how to download league of legends.

Given this, I expected that Noyes would elevate the voices of the performers who both prospered and suffered under Barnum’s thumb. Instead, there’s a mix of perspectives here: while some stories are told from the POV of performers (or their friends and family), the majority of the narrators – 6/11 – are Barnum’s female family members. The stories cross a nearly fifty-year time span and often occur at crucial (and tragic) moments in Barnum’s timeline:

The Mermaid (1842)
Caroline, the eldest of the Barnum girls, is itching to see her father’s newest acquisition: the Feejee mermaid, being displayed several floors above the family’s living quarters in the American Museum. Since daddy has precious little time for her, she’s determined to take matters into her own hands.

The Mysterious Arm (1842)
Young Charlie Stratton, who will eventually come to be known as General Tom Thumb, has just been recruited by PT Barnum wie kann ich ein video von youtube herunterladen. As he stays at the Museum, training for his upcoming European tour, Charlie befriends the Barnum sisters – including baby Frances and her older sister Helen.

Returning a Bloom to Its Bud (1845)
Charity Barnum, long-suffering wife of PT Barnum, pregnant with her fourth child and grieving the loss of her third, reflects on her life as she sets sail for the States after eight months spent touring Europe with her husband and his performers.

Beside Myself (1851)
When young Josephine agreed to tour the county with her childhood friend Jenny Lind, aka the “Swedish Nightingale,” she had no idea that it would mean losing herself – or the man that she loves herunterladen.

We Will Always Be Sisters (1852)
Helen, now a young woman living on her father’s estate in Connecticut (Iranistan), is haunted by the ghost of her baby sister Frances – and by her older sister Caroline’s upcoming nuptials.

The Fairy Wedding (1863)
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, inadvertently finds that his visit to the White House is set to coincide with the visit of Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren Stratton, as part of their three-year “honeymoon” tour, stopping in DC at Mary Todd’s request. Angry with his parents’ insistence that he not take up arms against the Confederacy, and still grieving the loss of his younger brother Willie, Robert’s disgust with the affair forces him to confront his relationship with his parents, as well as his own humanity (or lack thereof) wie kann man minecraft kostenlos herunterladen auf pc.

An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity (1865)
It’s just another day for Anna Swan, a giantess from Nova Scotia who left her job as a teacher to join Barnum’s troupe: brunch with her friend Lavinia Warren Stratton, a lecture or two, and bedtime. And then a fire ravages the American Museum, killing most of Barnum’s nonhuman menagerie, nearly trapping Anna in its flames, and displacing them all.

The Bearded Lady’s Son (1868)
Sixteen-year-old Jack is the illegitimate son of a bearded lady who just landed a spot in Barnum’s roster wix bild herunterladen. Trouble is, they’ve got to keep his existence a secret – Barnum can’t risk any whiff of impropriety in a show that struggles to avoid the margins. So Jack spends his days sketching the animals in Barnum’s menagerie…animals who, once again, are about to stoke the (literal) fire of Barnum’s vanity.

It’s Not Humbug If You Believe It (1869)
On the eve of William Mumler’s trial for fraud – at which her own father, none other than PT Barnum, is set to testify for the prosecution – Pauline commissions Mumler to take a spirit self-portrait of her herunterladen. She hides it in a book in her father’s library, where it will sit for more than twenty years.

All Elephants Are Tragic (1889)
As the family gathers at the Barnum property in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to witness the demolition of the Waveport cottage to make way for the Marina house – Barnum’s gift to his second, much-younger wife Nancy – the newest, arguably most vilified member of the Barnums reflects on her fifteen years with PT Barnum, his daughters, and their children.

What Makes You Think We Want You Here? (1891)
Told from the perspective of Barnie – really named Helen after her mother, and then renamed by Barnum once he became estranged from Helen the elder – the Barnums have gathered at the deathbed of the family’s larger-than-life patriarch: to say goodbye, and to reminisce.

While the writing is skilled enough, and some of the stories engaging (the recurring theme of fire is especially compelling), the overall result just fell flat for me spiele erneut herunterladen. I feel like this is something I should have enjoyed, thoroughly, and yet…and yet. With few exceptions, it’s weirdly boring and lacking in emotion.

I was disappointed that Noyes didn’t focus exclusively on the performers, even though not all of their narratives proved all that memorable.

Centering the women in Barnum’s life might also have worked out well, but mostly it felt like the stories didn’t go much of anywhere app spiele kostenlos downloaden android.

Honestly, I think the most eloquent writing manifests in Noyes’s narratives surrounding the nonhuman exhibits who suffered and died agonizing deaths in the multiple fires that destroyed Barnum’s museums over the years. For example, in “An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity” Anna Swan bears witness to the deaths of countless animals – snakes, cats, moneys – even as she fights to overcome her shock-induced paralysis and save herself:

She sailed and swayed over the sea of hats in the street, yet another audience, a uniform mass applauding with joy, it seemed, such joy — as much because some kind soul had released the birds from the aviary upstairs, and almost as one they burst from a corresponding window, a wheeling, feathered blur: parrots, cockatoos, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, vultures, and eagles, even the great, stiff, clumsy condor. The crowd in the street seemed to sway with them as they flapped free, and for the instant Anna floated on air as her rescue crew paused to take in the sight, and for the merest instant she felt it, too, swaying there, the beauty of the moment office mac.

Also heart wrenching is the tale of Jumbo the elephant, purchased from the London Zoo to tour in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, who sacrificed himself in a railway collision to save the life of a young calf. For his heroics, his corpse is dismembered and put on display by Barnum, exploited as a commodity even in death as “the Double Jumbo.” (Talk about a callback!) In “All Elephants Are Tragic,” second wife and “interloper” Nancy Fish considers her husband’s oh so brief mourning period and his shameful treatment of a “friend”:

As another of her husband’s British “acquisitions,” Nancy identified with Jumbo. […]

A year after the loss of Jumbo, the circus’s Winter Quarters in Bridgeport, the biggest animal training ground in the world, was leveled by fire, killing most of the animals. All Nancy remembered of that night was that poor Gracie the elephant had tried to swim to safety … making it all the way to the lighthouse before she sank under the waves. All elephants were tragic, it seemed to Nancy, captives stolen from their homes and made to perform against their wild natures.

THIS. This is the content I came here for. Immerse me in a chapter written from the perspective of one of Barnum’s nonhuman performers, the most long-suffering of them all. The fishes and monkeys forcibly joined to make the Feejee Mermaid (posthumously, obvs) perhaps, or the white whales boiled to death in their tank. Maybe Helen’s cranky old cat, banished to the Museum by Charity, never to be seen again.

Give me an act of nonhuman rebellion, or a whisper of feminist solidarity between h. sapiens and the furred and feathered creatures: for we are all their (read: the capitalist patriarchy’s) creatures.

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