A Second Look
I previously reviewed the characters in the novel in this post. This post I delve into the book as a whole and discuss the lesbian themes in the novel.
Author, Sarah Waters
According to her website, she was born in Wales in 1966 and has a PhD in English Literature. She has won awards such as the Betty Trask Award, Somerset Maugham Award, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and Waterston’s Author of the Year Award.
She has written six novels with Tipping the Velvet being her debut novel. Most of her novels have lesbian themes in them, including Tipping the Velvet.
This is a novel about a young woman who realizes that she is attracted to women and is really a tom, the Victorian-era term for lesbians. Sarah explores the sexuality of a young tom in Victorian-era England. She weaves the lesbian themes in with the historical facts of the era into one seamless story. This book focuses on the coming of age of one lesbian in England in the 1890’s and this is as much a story about one woman as it is about England and London during that time.
She falls in lust with Kitty Butler, but eventually finds real love with Florence. In the middle, she is essentially the play toy of a rich woman. Throughout the book are sex scenes that run the gamut from first touch of two women discovering their attraction to one another to the carnal and loveless sex with Diana.
While the novel is not considered a lesbian erotica, it does contain palpable and poignant sex scenes that would fit nicely into any lesbian erotica book; however the rest of the book would not. The book is an interesting juxtaposition between literary fiction and lesbian erotica that is stimulating in more ways than one.
Sarah uses the story to offer commentary on the Victorian era and on the socialist movement that was just beginning in the 1890’s. She points out the duplicity between the aristocratic Ladies Cavendish Club and the overall negative view of toms in general. She paints a vivid picture of the coastal town of Whitstable and oyster parlors that you can almost smell oysters as you read it. She likewise paints vivid portraits of various parts of London in such detail that you can see it when you close your eyes. The details of the scene just fall naturally along with the story about Nancy and you never notice the mechanics of the scene/world building.
Coming of Age Story
This is no ordinary coming of age story, but a coming of age story about a lesbian, or tom, in Victorian-era England when being anything other than socially acceptable was frowned upon. Nancy is an interesting character that grows and develops through out the story and with each change she becomes a slightly more complex person and character. She faces adversity, not with grace, but with realism, humanity, and grit. The reader is pulled throughout the story and alternatively rooting for Nancy then yelling, “Why are you so daft?” at the book. It is a wonderful story with real emotions which shows that a coming of age story transcends time and place.
Or is it all of the above?
I would argue that the book is all of the above and more. When you consider all that Sarah put in the novel and the length of the novel, you wonder how a first time novelist chose to bite off so much. I suspect that this was not her first novel, but only the first one she chose to publish. She has included more elements into one book that many authors dare not include in several books. She is talented in weaving the elements of the various parts of the story together seamlessly.
Worth a Read This Book Is!
If Yoda read the book and wrote a review, I think his review would be one sentence long. He spoke in simple, clear sentences and only said what was necessary. I have delved into great detail about the book, in two posts, only to sum it up in one Yoda quote: “Worth a read this book is.” So go forth and read this book.