Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
I'm a fan of Sarah Waters and rate her book Nightwatch as one of my all-time favourites. It took me a long time to get around to Tipping the Velvet though - sounded too raunchy and lesbian for my tastes! But when I came across it in my local WHS and felt desperate for a book I knew would be brilliantly written, I decided to go for it.
Raunchy - yes, lesbian - yes, well-written - yes. Not as good as her other books though, but then it was written earlier and most writers improve over time!
It's 1895. Nancy Astley falls for a variety show star - Kitty Butler whose act is to dress up as a man and sing saucy songs. They meet, and Nan becomes Kitty's dresser and moves to London with her to play the bigger theatres. In time they become lovers, and partners on stage. But Kitty is ashamed of her sexuality and eventually drops Nan to marry her agent. Heartbroken Nan finds comfort in continuing to dress as a boy, and becomes a 'male' prostitute, providing hand & mouth jobs in back alleys. She then gets picked up by a rich sapphist, and spends a year or so as a live-in plaything, until after being caught with the maid she's thrown out. Finally she finds friendship which grows into love with another girl.
The novel is an enjoyable read, and as you'd expect, romps along. It's not without its flaws though - there's a scene near the end where all Nan's ex-lovers just happen to be all attending the same socialist rally, so Nan can meet with all of them and gain closure.
But for fans of Waters or anyone with an open mind and a love of Victorian-set fiction, read it and enjoy!