January 20, 2016 by kitmoss
Tipping the Velvet: A Novel
This novel grabbed me instantly, though I must confess that says as much about me and my tastes as it does the novel. Nevertheless, it kept me grabbed and it was as much the writing, the coverage of social progress and history as it was my own predilections.
Nan her small Kent town when she meets and falls for Kitty, a music hall entertainer who dressed and performs as a young man. In due time, Nan joins the act in similar fashion, and she and Kitty become lovers. Unfortunately Kitty does not identify as a lesbian and is rather touchy about the fact, refusing to spend any time with other women who so identify. Nan leaves her and finds herself living as a male prostitute since her tricks never know she is not a boy. In yet another bit of irony, nan is picked up by a wealthy woman who wants her to be her boy, her lover, and in many ways, her trick dog. Breaking away from the rich woman, Nan finally comes across a woman she met once who is involved with radical causes, including the budding socialist movement, and finds, at last, real community with other women like herself and where she can live honestly.
There are so many threads of great interest in this novel. One, of course, is how Nan acts on her impulses and expects others will accept her for it. What her lovers, family and society accept from her is often surprising, particularly when she finds she can make a and see her living having sex with men who want to have sex with other men who accept her as such.
Another is how Nan’s self of herself is bounded about by her lovers’ willingness to accept that identity in themselves. When she sees Kitty again after many years Kitty is as closeted as ever.
I fond the historical view of lesbian life and how the radical movements of the 1890s impacted it quite fascinating. This is the pre-Russian Revolution era socialism, touching on some of the national socialist movements, such as Irish socialism, I had encountered before.
The look at music hall culture is unique. So is the view of social mores in the “Gay Nineties” of legend.
The novel itself is paced exquisitely, the character development natural and unforced.
OK, the predilection… I find women who dress and live as men fascinating, and that could be me or another woman, doesn’t matter. That Nan in this novel both masquerades and lives as if she was a man, that just made it that much more intriguing and satisfying for me.