Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters found itself on my ‘To Be Read’ list after reading Cathy at 746 Books’ enticing review of this new-to-me author.
Tipping the Velvet is a seductive story. It is set in the late 1800s in London and tells the story of a young woman who falls in love with a music-hall entertainer, leaving her family and security to follow her heart.
Nancy was a teenager when she first saw Kitty Butler impersonating a London ‘masher’ on stage and was instantly smitten. Nancy went to every one of Kitty’s shows until someone introduced her to Kitty and they became friends. Eventually Kitty was offered work in a better theatre in London and asked Nancy to go with her as her dresser, an opportunity which Nancy leapt at.
The two girls lived and worked together for some time before Nancy joined Kitty on stage, singing and dancing in men’s clothes. Shockingly for the times, both girls wore their hair short, like a boy’s, for their act. Nancy had been content to love Kitty secretly for almost a year before realising that Kitty felt the same way about her, and they started their secret romance.
When a drunken audience member accused Nancy and Kitty of being ‘Toms,’ a derogatory term for lesbians which I had never heard of before (nor had I heard of the term used in this story’s title either, which I first thought was a theatrical reference), Kitty abandoned Nancy in favour of respectability, causing Nancy to become a cross-dressing prostitute, and later, a kept ‘boy’ to an unpleasant but rich woman.
If I’d read one of the more explicit sex scene in the latter half of this story without having been gently lead there over many pages of holding hands, enjoying sweet kisses and hesitantly pushing back sexual boundaries, I might have been too shocked to continue, but as I said earlier, this is a seductive book which doesn’t risk losing a reader before they are well and truly ready for what comes next.
Nancy’s voice is completely convincing. She sometimes made poor decisions and so paid dearly for acting rashly, and she is often vain and selfish, but she is also as true and honest to herself and others as she can afford to be.
Tipping the Velvet is a surprising look into a Victorian world I couldn’t have imagined but very much enjoyed. Thanks again to Cathy for introducing me to this book and author.