Pride Month: The Incomparable Vesta Tilly ~ Victorian Actress & Crossdresser inspiration for Madame Lefoux (Special Extras)

Posted by Gail Carriger


Vesta Tilley was an actress famous for her cross dressing stage performances during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  She retired in 1920.

She performed before Queen Mary by Royal Command in 1912. The queen is reputed to have averted her eyes the entire time because she thought a woman in trousers was the height of indecency. I guess no one warned her that the 1920s were immanent.

I can’t claim Vesta Tilly as inspiration for Madame Lefoux (that can be laid squarely at the door of George Sand). But I just discovered Vesta Tilley. I think she may be the inspiration for one of the characters in the movie Tipping the Velvet, which I recommend if you are interested at all in the subject of Toms in Victorian England. Highly fantasized, of course, but still fun.

 Publicity still from IMDB

Vesta was not alone in her daring stage exploits. A number of actresses pushed the bounds of propriety in a myriad of different ways. Although Vesta seems to have been one of the most famous for cross dressing in particular.

It’s a great sadness to me that I never had the page time or plot direction to elaborate on the character of Mabel Dair in my books. She’s based, loosely, on the Jersey Lilly.

Lillie Langtree was, so far as I can guess, an absolute battleaxe of a female who blew through a cornucopia of rich and powerful male lovers, was friends with Oscar Wilde, and lived well into her seventies. There’s an indifferent but absorbing mini-series from the late 1970s on her life,. If the actresses of the Victorian and Edwardian era interest you, it’s worth a peek. The costumes are marvelous.

If it’s the cross dressing you’re after (and really, who isn’t?) there’s the hilarious You Rang M’lord featuring one of the most iconic female cross dressing characters of the small screen, in the form of Sissy. And if you can tolerate Julie Andrews, there is always Victor Vitoria.

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Book related to this post?

Romancing the Inventor Free PDF Gail Carriger

Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1862 Promenade Ensemble   The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Minoan, I think. Form the BM.

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
Forget steam: Some Victorian era machines were powered by dogs.

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .
A fun look at book cover art featuring THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NYC by Mur Lafferty  

Madame Genevieve Lefoux Original Notes & Character Study (Special Extras)

Posted by Gail Carriger

Genevieve Lefoux enters the Parasolverse in the second book of the series, Changeless. She is, in essence, Alexia’s Q.
As I wrote her she turned into much much more than that. Her hidden contrivance chamber beneath the hat shop is possibly the most steampunk element in any book I’ve ever written.
1911-1914 Longchamp, France via antique-royals tumblr Madame Lefoux Parasol Photo

1911-1914 Longchamp, France via antique-royals tumblr

All About Madame Genevieve Lefoux (AKA Vieve)

Later on, she becomes Sophronia’s Q as well, in the Finishing School series. Even though she is only 10.
Eventually, of course she get’s her own book, Romancing the Inventor.
Because, apparently I can not leave this poor character alone!
Here is how she is originally introduced to my readership…

“Alexia thought, without envy, that this was quite probably the most beautiful female she had ever seen. She had a lovely small mouth, large green eyes, prominent cheekbones, and dimples when she smiled, which she was doing now. Normally Alexia objected to dimples, but they seemed to suit this woman. Perhaps because they were offset by her thin angular frame and the fact that she had her brown hair cut unfashionably short, like a man’s.
Ivy gasped upon seeing her.
This was not because of the hair. Or, not entirely because of it. This was because the woman was also dressed head to shiny boots in perfect and impeccable style . . . for a man. Jacket, pants, and waistcoat were all to the height of fashion. A top hat perched upon that scandalously short hair, and her burgundy cravat was tied into a silken waterfall. Still, there was no pretense at hiding her femininity. Her voice, when she spoke, was low and melodic, but definitely that of a woman.”

~ From Changeless

Original Notes

  • Human
  • Tall and boney
  • Dimples
  • High Cheek bones
  • Short black slightly curly hair
  • Green eyes

Additional Reminders:

  • Madame Lefoux once had access to a partial copy of the Templar’s sacred scriptures
  • Her father fraternized with Alexia’s (who didn’t?)
  • Smells of vanilla and mechanics oil
  • Member of the OBO (Order of the Brass Octopus)
  • Travels with a tool kit in a hatbox

In the Parasol Protectorate series, Madame Lefoux is an enigma and her relationship with Alexia is quite turbulent. She clearly has much love to give and is a creature of emotions as well as science, a marker of her excess soul. But her motives are often unclear and her loyalty seems to be to family, friends, and lovers over society or government.

She is, in many ways the polar opposite of Alexia and thus Alexia finds her very difficult to understand. That doesn’t stop the two women from liking one another, something Alexia finds equally difficult to understand.

It was fun to write her earlier in time for the FInishing School books because as a child she is more open and less guarded. Also I could explore her relationship with her aunt.

Later on, of course I spend a great deal of time with her as the romantic love interest in Romancing the Inventor.

Artemis Ganartist Final ask for @glitterthegaywitch, who was sitting across from me reading Romancing the Inventor on my kindle while I was drawing the previous asks a few nights ago. She wanted Madame Lefoux and Imogene

And finally she makes a brief appearance in the Custard Protocol series by virtue of her relationship with Quesnel.

That’s a lot of bandwidth for a character who essentially started out as a means to the invention of one very cool parasol.

Inside information into the authors head. . . I had originally intended Madame Lefoux to be a alternate love interest. And she is definitely interested in Alexia. But any escalation of romance between them felt forced, and I realized that it was too out of character for Alexia. Unfortunately, poor Madame Lefoux is left rather lovelorn as a result. Despite (or perhaps because of?) the many difficulties and challenges Madame Lefoux has giving me as a character, she is one of my very favorites.

Gail’s Daily Dose
Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
Vintorian Ladies traveling case.

“It is wise never to travel unprovided with a small flask of brandy and water, a tiny case of court-plaster, with scissors, and either strong smelling salts or salt-volatile.” “In the summer a fold up fan and a flask of eu-de-Cologne or toilet vinegar will be found a great refreshment, and an unlimited stock of clean pocket-handkerchiefs is almost indispensable.”

~ Lillias Campbell Davidson, Hints to Lady Travellers, 1889

Quote of the Day:

“Port, sherry, and Madeira are decanted. Hocks and champagnes appear in their native bottles. Claret and burgundy are handed around in a claret-jug.”

~ Etiquette for Gentlemen, 1850

Book to read if you enjoyed this post?

RTI parasol teacup romancing the inventor SS1

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