His pleasure had turned, at the last, to a kind of grief; and his love was a love so fierce and so secret it must be satisfied, with a stranger, in a reeking court like this. I knew about that kind of love. I knew how it was to bare your palpitating heart, and be fearful as you did so that the beats should come too loudly, and betray you
I wouldn’t have imagined that a book, published in 1998 and set in the 1880s would so wonderfully capture what it is like to love in this country in 2018. Or rather, what it has been like for me. Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet was an enjoyable read for me. Partly because I saw so much of myself in the protagonist, Nancy. From her first awakening and consuming love for Kitty, to her perverse relationship with Diana and finally her redeeming (?) but selfish love for Florence.
I cannot explain the delight that I find when reading books with queer subjects. To see my feelings boldly put on paper after so many years of reading books with hetero love interests and trying to picture what it would be like with a girl, reading these books feels like finally coming home. I wonder how different life would have been if I had read Tipping The Velvet when I was in boarding or high school. Pages littered with girls in suits, girls loving girls, albeit in hiding.
“I have been being careful since the first minute I saw you. I am the Queen of Carefulness. I shall go on being careful for ever, if you like – so long as I might be a bit reckless, sometimes, when we are quite alone”
It is historical fiction, the book. I however, couldn’t help but wonder what it might have been like, to be ‘tommish’ in those days. And whether unknowingly, Sarah captured exactly what it was like to be queer in the 1880s. Before Twitter, before Tinder. There is a dildo mentioned a couple of times, in a number of pages. I wonder what it is made of. I wonder if they had dildos in the 1880s. I wonder if they were clunky and heavy and what differences can be drawn when compared to the dildo of today.
“We fitted together like the two halves of an oyster-shell. I was Narcissus, embracing the pond in which I was about to drown. However much we had to hide our love, however guarded we had to be about our pleasure, I could not long be miserable about a thing so very sweet. Nor, in my gladness, could I quite believe that anybody would be anything but happy for me if only they knew.”
It is an interesting tale this one. There are times I almost gave up on it but I am really glad I followed it through. I like that it was honest and raw, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful. I liked that the women were at the core of the socialism movement. I like that there was a happy ending, you know I am a sucker for that. I hope that without giving away too much, I have convinced you to give it a try.
Here is the synopsis:
A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King – oyster girl turned music-hall star turned rent boy turned East End ‘tom’.
Nan is captivated by the music hall phenomenon that is Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty’s dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they start an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.