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Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping The Velvet (original 1998; edition 2002)

by Sarah Waters

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3,6551071,443 (4.01)378
Title:Tipping The Velvet
Authors:Sarah Waters
Info:Virago (2002), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, Welsh fiction, Published in 2002, Published in the 2000s, Published in the 21st century, England, London, historical fiction, Read in 2013, Read in Belfast, Bought in 2013

Work details

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1998)

  1. 70
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (zembla)
    zembla: A lush, atmospheric Victorian love story between two young women.
  2. 81
    Affinity by Sarah Waters (Booksloth)
  3. 61
    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)

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» See also 378 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
I have had this book on my shelf to read for sometime. This ended up being a very well done historical fiction book about a young woman who ends up performing as a masher on stage and throughout that process realizes that she is gay. This is definitely an adult read.

Nancy is absolutely infatuated with the masher (cross-dressing music hall singer) Kitty Butler when she sees Kitty onstage. Nancy ends up becoming Kitty’s dresser and as events progress Nancy eventually takes the stage name Nan King and joins Kitty on the stage. When Kitty begins to shy at her own lesbianism and decides to get married to their male manager, Nan’s heart is broken. Nan leaves the stage and instead walks the streets as a butch roue (a pretty boy prostitute of sorts). While on the streets Nan finds friends and love in unexpected places.

This was a very entertaining, interesting, and engaging read. Nancy has such a straight-forward reaction to finding out that she loves other women; she just accepts that that is how she is and can’t understand other people's reaction to her sexual orientation. Really Nan’s attitude through the whole book is very interesting; she’s so composed and matter of fact over everything. Despite all she does and all she sees, there are only a couple of times where she feels betrayed and loses her composure.

I also really enjoyed looking into this time in history and getting to see it from a different point of view. GLBT folks have been treated such a wide variety of ways by society throughout the ages and it was interesting to get a historical look into that subculture.

The book is a fun read and very engaging; it’s a long book but I breezed right throughout. I would recommend for adults and older because there is a lot of sex in this book. I mean a lot a lot of sex and most of it is atypical. None of the sex is really gratuitous and I did like that a broad range of lesbian sex is portrayed; by that I mean we see Nan having tender loving sex and we also see her turning tricks for cash.

Overall an excellent historical fiction novel about one young woman’s journey through a stage career, discovering her own sexuality, and surviving. I would recommend to those who are interested in reading a historical fiction that explores both theater and GLBT subculture of the late 1800’s. ( )
  krau0098 | Nov 7, 2015 |
This is the first novel of Sarah Waters's that I read, and I love the historical picture that it drew as well as the drama that works it way through the book. ( )
  Big_Blue | Sep 29, 2015 |
A thoroughly enjoyable story, unencumbered by plot and with some great sex senes. ( )
  Lukerik | Sep 26, 2015 |
The likeable first-person narrator in Sarah Waters's debut novel is Nan Astley, whom we first meet as a rather shy, eighteen-year-old "oyster girl" in Whitstable. She becomes infatuated with Kitty Butler, a visiting male impersonator at the local theatre. An unlikely friendship develops and Nan and Kitty are soon on their way to London together. The novel charts Nan's coming of age (and "coming out") in the lesbian communities of late 19th century London.

I started this book after having read all Waters's other novels except "The Paying Guests" (which I read concurrently - watch this space for my review...) In the light of Waters's later works, I don't consider "Tipping the Velvet" as one of her very best books. As a picaresque novel, it lacks the tight plotting of Fingersmith. Nor does it have the ambitious narrative structure of The Night Watch or the tantalising ambiguities of The Little Stranger.

That said, it is easy to understand why critics were so enthusiastic about this novel when it was first published. Here was a new, exciting author with a surprising eye for detail and a talent for sumptuous descriptions of a bygone age. Here was an author who confidently evoked the Victorian era without resorting to rosy nostalgia or gaslight clichés. Here was an author who was evidently well-versed in the 19th century literary canon but equally knowledgeable about the naughtier writers of the period (Waters had researched 19th century pornography as part of her doctoral studies and the title is a term taken from Victorian sexual slang). Indeed, "Tipping the Velvet" sometimes feels like the book that Dickens or Collins might have written but would have never dared publish.

A rollicking debut, then, and a good place to start exploring Waters' world. In my view however, her later books are better, albeit less transgressive. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 10, 2015 |
Sarah Waters can spin a yarn. She can conjour up a world. She can keep you entertained. But what she absolutely can't do is create realistic characters or convince me that all her creativity isn't simply an elaborate means to the banal end of trying to convince me that every woman in Victorian England was a lesbian.

From the get go, Waters creates a detailed Victorian world for the setting of this novel and here's where her strength definitely lies. She's done a huge amount of research to get such a vivid backdrop painted so well. I enjoyed this immensely, particularly areas of London which have changed so remarkably since the late 19th century.

This was her first novel though, and it really shows in the characters she creates and her storyline. The characters are pretty flat, predictable and, apart from Nancy herself, not really given the attention to detail that they deserve. There's no real explanation of their inner worlds or what has made them the way they are. If I was less cynical, I'd say that this was Waters' skill in rendering them from the perspective of a

narrator in the naivety of youth. But I don't think this was intentional at all.

And the storyline is pretty much as implausible as it gets. If it wasn't for a few astounding coincidences, Nancy would have died in the gutter about a third of the way through the novel. But, at the last minute every time, Waters has managed to come up with something to keep the wheel turning.

Nancy grows up on the north Kent coast, the daughter of a working class oysterman living a simple, traditional life that has pretty much vanished despite the continued fame of Whistable oysters even to this day. She gets a crush (her first of very, very many) on a local music hall actress who whisks her off to London and a new life that is about as alien to her roots as oysters are to people from Paraguay. This new turns out, as you suspect, to be too rosy to last and cycles of despair and elation then move you through to the heavily contrived end of the novel. Here, like a badly-written pantomime where everyone needs to be on stage for the finale and curtain call, she meets pretty much everyone in the novel (except her forsaken family) in a matter of a few hours and Waters ties everything up in Disney-esque sweetness.

However, all this can be forgiven as an author learning her ropes as she shows us that she has promise as a writer if she would just keep at it and consider her characters more. What I find less easily tolerated is the sheer fantasy of the lesbian world she attempts to portray to us.

Nancy has a crush on woman she sees on stage. She befriends Kitty and shares a bed with her in London. It takes some time before their relationship is consumated, but they become lovers. It's clear though that Kitty has issues with the lifestyle and while Waters could have grasped this and explored the clash between Nancy's assurance of her identity and the dichotomy in Kitty's mind, no sooner has this been revealed than the novel takes an almighty plot heave and Nancy finds herself in a completely different world which she simply seems to accept rather than question as it involves her in some sexual activity that most sane people, whatever their sexual orientation, would find themselves conflicted by.

It is in making her way through this alternative world and coming out the other side of it that the novel just became a bit ridiculous for me. Pretty much every female Nancy meets from that point on is a lesbian who Nancy lusts after (and I do mean lust). This gets so implausible that, a few pages before the end of the novel, this exchange occurs between Nancy and a companion:

"That's Mrs Costello," she said, "Emma's widowed sister."

"Oh!" I had heard of her before, but never expected her to be so young and pretty. "How handsome she is. What a shame she ain't - like us. Is there no hope of it?"

"None at all, I'm afraid. But she is a lovely girl..."

I'm sure Mrs Costello would be gratified to hear that she is "lovely" despite the fatal flaw of there being no "hope" of her homosexuality. It's good to know that we who apparently happen to find ourselves heterosexual have some value in the eyes of those who aren't. It's as if Waters was thinking that if she can cram as many lesbians into her novel as possible, she can convince us that as it was apparently rife in the 19th century and that I should accept it as such in the 21st. To borrow a phrase from the same era: close, but no cigar. Actually, she didn't even come close.

Thus, as a vehicle for the LBGT agenda which Waters undoubtedly intended it should be, this novel is a wreck. For a novel that really explores the issues surrounding growing up gay, study A Boy's Own Story or even the much more contemporary, although far less balanced, Oranges are not the Only Fruit. Waters may argue that she's very familiar with these novels. That's great, but she can take home what she brought to the party. ( )
  arukiyomi | Sep 5, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Watersprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maters, TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster?
"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.)
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Please do not combine Tipping the Velvet the novel with Tipping the Velvet the DVD.
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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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Nancy Astley, a fishmonger in Whitstable, becomes smitten by male impersonator Kitty Butler and attends shows until the star notices her, which leads to the two becoming partners in romance and performance until societal pressures drive the two into situations that embrace the ambiguity of sexual preference and gender roles.… (more)

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