Review: Tiger Woman, My Story – Betty May (1929) New Edition July 2014
A guest post by LH Member, Jane Young
This is a strange little memoir. Certainly more memoir than autobiography as it is quite likely that many aspects of this lady’s life that must have gone hand in hand with the events described have been left out.
It is written in a sensationalist tone and intended to shock. Which when published in 1929 it undoubtedly would have achieved. The self-congratulatory narrative does absolutely nothing to warm the reader to the writer whom it is difficult to not dislike intensely by the end of the book.
Having said that, it is however an interesting account of low life in the early twentieth century. Set largely in London but also travelling to the West Country, Paris and Sicily the colourful descriptions of all that is sordid are executed with skill, alongside attention to detail in noting domestic interiors, clothes and food, all with the unmatched accuracy of a sharp mercenary eye. Betty May measures success by her expertise in sponging and ability to have others pay for her, which though unsurprising given the childhood described therein, still remains a distasteful tale.
Nonetheless there is the impression that even in this supposedly frank rendition she is playing some sort of self serving part as is made clear in the introduction:
“I am going to tell my story in the same sort of way I have lived my life”
You are left with a prevailing sadness and still wondering who the real Betty May was. The book is not a joy to read but is an odd little piece of social history and thus worth reading for that alone.
Tiger Woman My Story has been republished to coincide with a new musical portraying the life of Betty May which has excellent credentials and very good reviews:
A percentage from the sale of this book goes towards supporting the production, therefore a foreword explaining the impetus for publication would have been a worthwhile inclusion.