Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters
Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters, was written in the 90s, at a time when lesbian fiction was still considered scandalous and groundbreaking.
The novel takes place in the 1890s in Victorian London. It tells the story of Nancy, a young girl from a seaside town, who falls in love with a male impersonator, Kitty. She follows Kitty in London as her dresser. They quickly become secret lovers and start performing together on stage. When people start suspecting Nancy and Kitty’s relationship, Kitty decides to protect her reputation and escapes into marriage. Broken-hearted Nancy becomes a male street prostitute and then a wealthy, lustful widow’s kept "tart." Nancy finally finds love and her true identity with an activist woman from the East End, a woman who was not ashamed of her desire and love for Nancy. On the other hand, Kitty remains unhappy in a loveless marriage, while longing for Nancy.
The novel is awash with highly-charged, graphic lesbian sex, and shows the sexual underground culture of Victorian-era sapphists. All in all, a beautiful story, captivatingly told by Walters, an interesting reminder of lesbians discovering their sexuality and first sexual encounters.
Tipping the Velvet was later made into a mini-series and then put together as a film, with surprising success to both gay and straight audiences.
Walters also wrote Fingersmith, also featuring a lesbian relationship. The book was recently reimagined as the film The Handmaiden.