Book Talk: A bearded lady and skinny man's love sparks novel

Wed Jul 21, 2010 5:01am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - For U.S. writer Ellen Bryson it was the mental image of a group of bearded women that lured her into fiction and the extraordinary world of P.T. Barnum's American Museum in New York City in 1865.

Bryson said it was pure coincidence that her debut novel, "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno," is being released around the 200th anniversary of Barnum's birth -- July 5, 1810 -- as it was about five years in the writing.

The novel is the unlikely love story between the world's thinnest man and the bearded lady on show at Barnum's museum that entertained the masses with freaks and oddities from around the world such as a woman giant and a man as bendy as rubber.

The museum burned down in 1865 from a fire of unknown origin and Barnum re-established it in New York but when it burned down again he took to the road instead, setting up his famous traveling circus. He died in 1891 at the age of 80.

Bryson, who did an MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, said the American Museum proved to be a fascinating window on life in New York in the late 19th century:

Q: What sparked the book?

A: "I had an image of six bearded women standing in a circus tent yelling out their names. This image haunted me and so I started to do some research about bearded women. I found a picture of Annie Jones, a bearded woman who was shown by P.T. Barnum and that really started it."

A: So is the book based on her?   Continued...