Welcome back to another (belated) “Sexy Sunday”!! My collaboration with the lovely and talented Vanessa from Food in Books! Be sure to go and check out her review and recipe!
4.5 out of 5 Stars
Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon 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 begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in 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.
‘For all the money that’s in the bank, For the title of lord or duke, I wouldn’t exchange the girl I love, There’s bliss in every look. To see her dance the polka, I could faint with radiant love, May the Monument a hornpipe dance, If ever I cease to love! May we never have to pay the Income Tax, If ever I cease to love!’
Well, I will honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I’m disappointed that the all of the Synopsis that I would look up, and the things that I would hear really just played up the lesbian eroticism and nothing else about this wonderful book!
It reads like historical fiction with a touch of Oscar Wilde. Showing us, through wonderfully descriptive prose the life of an Oyster girl as she discovers herself, her sexuality, and her way in a life of hard knocks and heart breaks.
“I was eighteen, and knew nothing. I thought, at that moment, that I would die of love for her.”
Nancy starts off as a naive young girl with a love of musical theatre,
“It had its own particular scent – the scent, I know now, of music halls everywhere – the scent of wood and grease-paint and spilling beer, of gas and of tobacco and of hair-oil, all combined. It was a scent which as a girl I loved uncritically; later I heard it described, by theatre managers and artistes, as the smell of laughter, the very odour of applause. Later still I came to know it as the essence not of pleasure, but of grief.”
Who never thinks she can make anything of her life, even though people tease her about her constant singing and dreaming, that her life should be on the stage,
“When she said it, however, she laughed; and so did I. The girls I saw in the glow of the footlights, the girls whose songs I loved to learn and sing, they weren’t like me. They were more like my sister: they had cherry lips, and curls that danced about their shoulders; they had bosoms that jutted, and elbows that dimpled, and ankles – when they showed them – as slim and as shapely as beer-bottles. I was tall, and rather lean. My chest was flat, my hair dull, my eyes a drab and an uncertain blue. My complexion, to be sure, was perfectly smooth and clear, and my teeth were very white; but these – in our family, at least – were counted unremarkable, for since we all passed our days in a miasma of simmering brine, we were all as bleached and blemishless as cuttlefish. No, girls like Alice were meant to dance upon a gilded stage, skirted in satin, hailed by cupids; and girls like me were made to sit in the gallery, dark and anonymous, and watch them. Or so, anyway, I thought then.”
Until she meets the “male impersonator” Miss Kitty Butler, and her life is forever changed,
“She straightened her back, made me a little bow, and raised my knuckles to her lips. I flushed with pleasure – until I saw her nostrils quiver, and knew, suddenly, what she smelled: those rank sea-scents, of liquor and oyster-flesh, crab-meat and whelks, which had flavoured my fingers and those of my family for so many years we had all ceased, entirely, to notice them. Now I had thrust them beneath Kitty Butler’s nose! I felt ready to die of shame. I made, at once, to pull my hand away; but she held it fast in her own, still pressed to her lips, and laughed at me over the knuckles. There was a look in her eye I could not quite interpret. ‘You smell,’ she began, slowly and wonderingly, ‘like –’ ‘Like a herring!’ I said bitterly. My cheeks were hot now and very red; there were tears, almost, in my eyes. I think she saw my confusion and was sorry for it. ‘Not at all like a herring,’ she said gently. ‘But perhaps, maybe, like a mermaid …’ And she kissed my fingers properly, and this time I let her; and at last my blush faded, and I smiled.”
I couldn’t even imagine how it would have been in the 1800’s to fall in love with a woman. There are still people who have trouble accepting it TODAY! Nancy may have been naive in the ways of her heart, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by her courage. I could understand her pain when feeling all of this love and being told to “be careful”, to not show it, to be shunned by her own sister for coming clean about her feelings,
‘I will be careful,’ I had said – and I had said it very lightly, because I thought it would be easy. I had kept my promise: I never kissed her, touched her, said a loving thing, when there was anyone to glimpse or overhear us. But it was not easy, nor did it become easier as the months passed by; it became only a dreary kind of habit. How could it be easy to stand cool and distant from her in the day, when we had spent all night with our naked limbs pressed hot and close together? How could it be easy to veil my glances when others watched, bite my tongue because others listened, when I passed all our private hours gazing at her till my eyes ached of it, calling her every kind of sweet name until my throat was dry? Sitting beside her at supper at Mrs Dendy’s, standing near her in the green-room of a theatre, walking with her through the city streets, I felt as though I was bound and fettered with iron bands, chained and muzzled and blinkered. Kitty had given me leave to love her; the world, she said, would never let me be anything to her except her friend.”
In saying that Nancy’s sister shunned her, I will say that her family, all in all, were pretty fantastic and supportive! To announce to her family that she is going to run off to London and be a “dresser” for a male impersonator on the vaudeville stage at 18 and have them support her decision??
‘In short, Nance, even was you going to the very devil himself, your mother and I would rather see you fly from us in joy, than stay with us in sorrow – and grow, maybe, to hate us, for keeping you from your fate.’
And for them to make sure that she knows that she always has a home to return to, where people love her?
“The trunk was a goodbye gift from Davy. He had bought it new, and had my initials painted on the lid in swooning yellow capitals; and inside it he had pasted a map of Kent, with Whitstable marked on it with an arrow – to remind me, he said, where home was, in case I should forget.”
Unfortunately for Nancy, sometime other people’s dreams are bigger and more important than your own, and things may not exactly turn out the way that you hope…
“Suddenly, I have all these things, that I have dreamed of having for so long! Do you know how that must feel, Nan, to be given your heart’s desire, like that?’ I did. It was a wonderful feeling – but a fearful one, too, for you felt all the time that you didn’t deserve your own good fortune; that you had received it quite by error, in someone else’s place – and that it might be taken from you while your gaze was turned elsewhere. And there was nothing you would not do, I thought, nothing you would not sacrifice, to keep your heart’s desire once you had been given it.”
The story was infinitely sweet and sad. I loved the growth in Nancy’s character, the societal commentary and the very real life choices she has to make.
Pick up your Copy HERE!
Tipping the Velvet is Best Served with a Black Velvet Cocktail
- 4 ounces Champagne
- 4 ounces chilled stout
- Pour Champagne into a beer mug, pint glass, or Champagne flute.
- Slowly pour the stout on top.