The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age
Author: John Woolf (Downing 2008)
Publisher: Michael O'Mara (UK)/ Pegasus (USA)
A radical new history of the Victorian age: discover the truth behind The Greatest Showman and meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era. On 23rd March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria. On both sides of the Atlantic, this event marked a tipping point in the nineteenth century - the age of the freak was born. Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle - of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen - and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals. But the real stories of the performing men, women and children, have been forgotten or marginalised in the histories of the very people who exploited them. In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of newly discovered materials to bring to life the often tragic, sometimes triumphant but always extraordinary stories of people who used their disabilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities. Giving a voice to the voiceless, The Wonders uncovers the birth of showbusiness, celebrity, advertising and ‘alternative facts’, and explores the tensions between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with ‘otherness’.