Tipping the Velvet Underground

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah WatersJust finished reading Sarah Waters‘ 1998 novel Tipping the Velvet. A real page-turner. In part for me because I was I think as blind-sided as Nan King was at Kitty Buttler’s betrayal-liaison with Walter Bliss and expected a resolution and reunion between the two with each subsequent chapter before belatedly resigning myself against this. There was a happy romantic ending – a number indeed – but not telling between whom as do not want to spoil for those who are not familiar with it! – a real tear-jerker the ending was too following on the emotional rollercoaster of Nancy after Kitty.

I now want to watch the BBC and Andrew Davies 2002 adaptation (which also was the cover of the version of the book I read so Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes were already indelibly imprinted in my imagination as Nan and Kitty) – and I want to seek out everything else on TV and in print from Sarah Waters such as Fingersmith and Affinity and am awaiting the 2011 Richard Laxton adaptation of The Night Watch with eager anticipation.

Tipping the Velvet TV cast photo

Though the ending was romantically a happy one the politics of the book made me a bit rueful. Not the sexual and equality politics – there have been significant developments in Britain since the time of its setting in the late 19th Century – rather the labour and economic politics of the book as exemplified by the Florence Banner character and her brother Ralph.

Sarah WatersAt this time socialism was still a hopeful dream of working people. The 20th Century saw it become a nightmare with the Capitalism it sought to replace flourishing and stronger than ever come the end of the 20th Century. But here we are in 2011 with Free Market Capitalism itself now dead following its demise in the 2008 financial crisis and what to fill the vacuum? A pauperization of the middle-classes now seems in place and the Karl Marx observation that

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks

remains as pertinent as ever. Only social democracy can perhaps save us now but will the crony capitalists relinquish their reigns – they have prevailed for an awfully long time.

However lest you have not read this book and now thinking it a dry political tract don’t let my tangential musings mislead, the political and economic travails of working people is but a part of this rich and many layered story. The wilful Victorian love-child of Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte. And then some!