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Tipping the Velvet (1998)

by Sarah Waters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,4861311,759 (3.99)446
Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this was a girl: the most marvellous girl - I knew it at once! - that I had ever seen. A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King - oyster girl turned music-hall star turned rent boy turned East End 'tom'.… (more)
  1. 81
    Affinity by Sarah Waters (Booksloth)
  2. 70
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (zembla)
    zembla: A lush, atmospheric Victorian love story between two young women.
  3. 71
    Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (_debbie_)
    _debbie_: Both are (at least partially) historical novels with strong themes of identity, coming of age, and going against the mainstream to stay true to what you feel is right. Although one is set in Victorian England and the other isn't, they both have that same feel of rich language and descriptive place.… (more)
  4. 20
    Moll Cutpurse, Her True History by Ellen Galford (CurrerBell)
  5. 00
    Ladies and Gentlemen: A Play by Emma Donoghue (amanda4242)
  6. 00
    Passing Strange by Ellen Klages (amanda4242)
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» See also 446 mentions

English (123)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (131)
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
p...ause? at page 115
i wiiiish you weren't written in this styyyyle it's really tough to reeead
  Chyvalrys | Aug 5, 2020 |
This was a very different sort of historical fiction than I’m used to and I liked it all the better for it. It’s finely written with an ear to character voice and the time period, but it’s plain-spoken, not overwrought, and Nancy doesn’t spend a lot of time on details that don’t matter to the story. It’s enough to know she’s walking a foggy street. She doesn’t mention the muck or the smell or who she’s walking past. Waters has clearly done all the research, but she doesn’t care if you know it, and I wish more people followed her lead.

I also really liked seeing queer Victorian London, and that Waters wove the story to take us through all its facets without making it heavy-handed. I liked that this was a very positive queer London too! That yes, there were homophobes and bad situations and people who take advantage of others, but at the same time, the message is that queer people have always been, they’ve always found ways to exist in society, that they’ve always found acceptance and family and each other, and that the struggles queer people face now were faced in the past and if they succeeded, we can too. (Or at least, that’s what I took away from it.) Even if it’s not 100% in the historical record, it’s 100% believable and nice to see.

Nancy’s an interesting person too, with a wide-eyed but knowing way of looking at the world, and I enjoyed following her through her story and growth, even through the parts I knew weren’t going to end well. I was at least as caught up in what happened to her as I was seeing Victorian London in all its queerness. She’s real, and her partners are real, and everyone else is believable, and as fleshed out as they need to be for their roles in the story. There were some other elements of her narration that I also liked, but I think to mention them here would spoil the effect.

I also enjoyed all the little moments where Waters puns on “queer” and where she peppers historical queer people and literature into the background. There’s a library at one point where every author is gay, and I think there’s mention of “poor Oscar” at one point without context, that kind of thing.

I wasn’t sucked into the story to the point of needing to go back to the book as soon as possible, which is one of the bars I have for what is a great read, but this was solidly good and I absolutely plan to read more of Waters’ books in the future. She’s got a great style, and there’s definitely a reason this one in particular keeps getting talked about.

To bear in mind: Contains homelessness, poverty, unequal and abusive relationships, internal and external homophobia, historical slurs including towards a Black man, attempted and actual sexual assault. Survival sex work, if that’s going to bring back bad memories. Some pretty explicit sex scenes, if you’re reading in public.

7.5/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
Utter trash, of course, and I didn't like the protagonist at ALL but - oh dear - I rather loved it anyway. ( )
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
I couldn't put this book down! I was a little skeptical of it because I saw the miniseries several years ago and thought it was pretty far-fetched, but within the mind of the charming and funny narrator, the story all made sense. I love the way the narrator can describe and quote her younger self and track her own progress and setbacks while staying just separate enough from the narrative. I also loved the detail of the world and all of the senses it engages. Definitely one of the most absorbing books I've read in a while. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
Tipping the Velvet is the story of Nancy, discovering her sexuality and eventually finding love. She leaves her family and settled life in a Victorian oyster kitchen to go to London with a music hall star. Head over heels in love, her heart is broken when she walks in on Kitty with her agent. The rest of the book chronicles Nancy putting herself back together again, and making a few poor choices along the way, until she finally finds True Love.

I enjoyed this more than Fingersmith. In part because the relationships felt much more honest – the story is broadly ‘find out who you are and learn about what is bad for you, so you can appreciate a good thing when you get it’, or maybe ‘you can love truly and still learn to love again’. It was much more reassuring than Fingersmith’s ‘they’re both a bit shitty, but yay, they end up together’. It’s also a much more explicit book – if you were choosing a novel because you wanted lesbian erotica, I felt Tipping the Velvet delivered to the spec more.

The treatment of the cruel rich lesbians of London is uncomfortable. They are awful – must relationships always end up awful with such a power imbalance? Is there any way Diana can be who she is and want what she wants without hurting people?

The story is colourful and engaging – mashers and toms and gay girls. It is a lesbian novel – there is no framing that Nancy, with her love of girls, short hair, man’s clothing and spell as a rent boy is a trans man. She loves her Flo, and they are toms, and the other toms accept them and know them.

It is a very romanticised book. It is hard to believe Flo’s kind heart wouldn’t have left her broken long before Nancy rocks up into her life. And I want to believe Victorian London had lots of happy, content, Socialist Lesbians, living with their partners and going to the pub, but it seems a little unlikely.

It is a book about women, and so there is some mention of miscarriage – Kittle has lost a baby (mostly in a token mentioned-as-a-aside way, so we know she’s Not Happy Now), Nancy lies about a miscarriage to get Flo’s sympathy, and the woman Flo loved died in childbirth.

There is a strong theme of not being ashamed of who you love – it is Kitty’s major flaw that she is, and Flo’s great strength that she is not. The final scene should be ridiculous – Everyone TM turns up at the same event, and Nancy Saves The Day by giving a speech – but actually, I really enjoyed it. ( )
  atreic | Jul 8, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Watersprimary authorall editionscalculated
McMahon, JuanitaReadermain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Abrams, Erikatraductricesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Amoroso, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Amrain, SusanneÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ascari, FabrizioTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Books, RecordedPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lyngstad, KariOvers.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maters, TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zetterström, GunTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster?
Quotations
"Dreams," I said. He snapped his fingers. "The very stuff that stages are made of."
"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."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine Tipping the Velvet the novel with Tipping the Velvet the DVD.
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Book description
Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this was a girl: the most marvellous girl - I knew it at once! - that I had ever seen. A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King - oyster girl turned music-hall star turned rent boy turned East End 'tom'.
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