Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet⚦ Tipping the Velvet Books ✫ Author Sarah Waters – Jobs-in-kingston.co.uk This delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she This delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a crossdressing musichall singer named Miss Kitty Butler When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on Grease Paint Avenue, Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act In time, Kitty Tipping the Kindle - breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual educationa sort of Moll Flanders in dragfinally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places. It's not often that I like a book, so listen up and listen well.

If someone had given me the bare bones outline of Tipping the Velvet and suggest I read it, I'd have kindly told them to piss off. I have a job, a kid to raise, and an already low tolerance for contemporary fiction. A book about cross-dressing lesbians in Victorian England wouldn't spark enough interest in me to get past the title page.

Silly me. Good thing I thought that tipping the velvet was a reference to the theater (hint: it's not) and mistakenly believed I was buying a book about East End actresses. This mistake was a blessing, and this novel renewed my faith in modern fiction.

Tipping the Velvet carries a variety of themes that have bored me since my first Women's Studies classes in college: identity, cross-dressing, gender roles, and sexuality. Yet, alongside these nearly foreign concepts were the universal themes found in all great works of literature: passion, lust, betrayal, scandal, violence, redemption, and love. So, what did it leave me with? A book that shot a breath of life into all of those tired old themes. A book I couldn't put down, and not just for the positively raunchy (and at times touching) sex scenes that had me blushing to my hairline. No. What kept me hooked was the astoundingly good writing:

When describing being backstage at the theater after a performance, I caught a glimpse of ladders and ropes and trailing gas-pipes; of boys in caps and aprons, wheeling baskets, manoeuvring lights. I had the sensation then - and I felt it again in the years that followed, every time I made a similar trip back stage - that I had stepped into the workings of a giant clock, stepped through the elegant casing to the dusty, greasy, restless machinery that lay, all hidden from the common eye, behind it.

When telling us about a dirty mirror, we're told that the small looking glass [was] as cloudy and as speckled as the back of an old man's hand.

When discussing the ways of her tyrannical lover: There is a way rich people have of saying 'What?' The word is honed, and has a point put on it; it comes out of their mouths like a dagger coming out of a sheath. That is how Diana said it now, in that dim corridor. I felt it pierce me through, and make me sag. I swallowed.

Yeah. Writing like that will keep you up at night.

The hot sex scenes? The bizarre gender roles that previously would have left me uninterested? The story itself? All just added bonuses. This chick could write about paint drying and make it fascinating. She makes cross-dressing, hooking, and other >ahem< unmentionables ;) seem completely exciting, alive, and blessedly normal. I love it.

Finally. A work of fiction that doesn't suck or make me feel like I've gotten dumber by the time I've finished it.

KICKED ASS. “Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it…”
- Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet is the gay Victorian epic you didn’t know you needed in your life. From its unsubtle opening come-on, to its sort-of pedantic ending, this is Charles Dickens with a twist. That twist – I don’t think this is a spoiler – happens to be a really specific description of a strap-on dildo.

In my reading life, I don’t think I’ve come upon something like this before. Likely, I wouldn’t have, but for a bit of luck.

By way of background, I’m a straight white male living in the conservative heartland of America who likes reading about the Civil War and drinking cheap white wine chilled with ice cubes. Just so we understand each other, I drink that wine out of a huge plastic wine glass that can almost be classified as a novelty.

Thus, when Sarah Waters sits down to write her novels, I am likely not the intended audience for which she spins her yarns. Possibly, I am the furthest thing from it. Nevertheless, great fiction transcends all bounds. In other words, despite being classified as “gay fiction,” this is really just great fiction, a premium example of sublime storytelling.

My first experience with Waters was at the end of 2014, with her novel, The Paying Guests. Intrigued by the marvelous reviews, and the promise of a little of the between-the-sheets action for which she is famous, I picked it up. Despite being far less risqué than I might have imagined – or hoped, if I’m being honest – it was an engrossing reading experience. This led me, by happy accident, to circle back to Waters’ first novel, Tipping the Velvet.

Tipping the Velvet is a huge, messy, fun saga, the aforementioned Dickens spiced with some of Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, and more than a dash of My Secret Life. Imagine Pip from Great Expectations, except Pip is a headstrong lesbian who leaves his family, and Magwitch is a rich widow in the market for a cross dressing sex slave. That just about explains this sprawling, picaresque take on the classic coming-of-age story.

Set in the 1890s, Tipping the Velvet is narrated in the first-person by Nancy “Nan” Astley, a young woman born and raised in Whitstable, Kent, where she works in her family’s oyster restaurant. (Waters gets points for many things. Subtle symbolism is not among them). When Nan opens her story, she has just begun to fall in love – from afar – with Kitty Butler, a masher who sings popular tunes while dressed in men’s clothing at a nearby theater. Nan goes to watch Kitty every chance she gets. Eventually, Nan becomes her dresser. Later they become friends. Soon enough, like every plucky, Victorian-era protagonist, Nan leaves home to follow Kitty to the big city. She gets on stage. She becomes Kitty’s lover. She meets with some success.

And at some point, there is a bump on the road, and Nan’s real adventure begins.

This is a book that I almost gave up on. Like The Paying Guests, it starts slowly. And I mean real slow. The most fundamental part of a story is conflict, and Waters, who is a deliberative writer, carefully setting the stage and piling on details, keeps the road smooth for a long time. (Just over 150 pages, more or less). But once Nan’s newfound life gets a little shakeup, the rest of the novel’s pages move at a much quicker pace.

There are unforgettable supporting characters, unique set pieces (there is a bacchanal that trumps every party-scene in War and Peace), and a wonderfully recreated London, full of gritty, tactile details. Take, for instance, a description of a boarding room that Nan comes to inhabit:

The room to which she led me was cramped and mean and perfectly colorless; everything in it – the wallpaper, the carpets, even the tiles beside the hearth – having been rubbed or bleached or grimed to some variety of gray. There was no gas, only two oil-lamps with cracked and sooty chimneys. Above the mantel there was one small looking-glass, as cloudy and as speckled as the back of an old man’s hand. The window faced the Market…All I really saw, however, was the bed – a horrible old down mattress, yellow at the edges and blackened in the middle with an ancient bloodstain the size of a saucer – and the door. The bed, for all its rankness, seemed at that moment wonderfully inviting…


Tipping the Velvet is crammed with descriptions like this, from dance halls and back alleys to swank mansions and late-19th century gay bars. (Which is why it can be just as exasperating as it is thrilling). It is a London vaguely familiar from other novels, but peopled with a heretofore hidden gay community. It can be a bit exhausting, all the detail. Once the story starts careening, however, as it does around the halfway point, it becomes impossible to put down. The plot rambles propulsively from one extreme episode to another. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, except to repeat there is a dildo, and it is given a word-painting that really imprints the thing in your mind.

Since I know you are wondering: There is sex within these pages. This should not surprise, since the title is slang for cunnilingus. Some of the sex is mildly graphic. Most of it, however, is contained within one extended sequence late in the book. You’ll know what part I’m talking about when you get there. Believe me, you’ll know.

Nan is an engaging narrator and an incredibly drawn character. I’ve often found first-person narrators to be under-written ciphers, a vessel through which to view the novel’s world. Not here. Nan is never overshadowed by the fascinating supporting cast she keeps running into. She is complex, and often unlikeable (often really unlikeable). She abandons her family, and essentially forgets about them. She tries to drag people out of the closet, kicking and screaming. She is sexually aggressive and utterly selfish. At times, she doesn’t seem worthy enough to warrant our continued attention. In the end, though, the roundedness of her personality, the good and the bad, makes her arc all the more moving. Nan has a lot of different experiences – singer, prostitute, housekeeper, activist – and she earns every bit of happiness she garners.

There are things I didn't love here. The plot is so expansive and digressive that it can feel directionless. This, coupled with the slow beginning, is enough to try one’s patience. Towards the end, Waters also gets a little preachy. Nan gets caught up in the labor movement, and we are treated to a slew of harangues that abruptly curb Nan’s hedonistic impulses. I bought the conversion, but just barely, and mostly because Waters had stored up some goodwill with me. Waters also hits certain themes hard, particularly the need to be true to your own identity. Tipping the Velvet is kind to those “toms” who boldly and openly live their lives, while pitying characters – such as Kitty – who want to keep their sexuality a secret. It’s a rather cruel dichotomy, especially given the setting.

Ultimately, I was rewarded by sticking through to the end. I’m always searching for the mythical “novel to get lost in.” I did not expect to find it in a lesbian bildungsroman, but that is exactly what happened.

I’m not in school anymore. There aren’t any teachers telling me what to read. I pick my own books, except when my book club picks them (and if I don’t like it, I don’t read the book, and pretend I did). I have a definite literary wheelhouse – a comfort zone. Of course, if you do the same exercise with the same muscle over and over, you plateau. Every once in a while, I try to shake things up, to dip outside what I obviously like and try something different. Sometimes that leads me to struggle with the canonical classics. Other times, it leads me to Sarah Waters. Reading Tipping the Velvet, with its new spin on old motifs, is like wandering a familiar city and finding a brand new part of town. Nancy Astley was born in Whitstable, Kent in the late nineteenth century. She's from an ordinary, hard working family, and from a very young age she helped in her parents fish restaurant shucking oysters until her fingers were red raw with the icy cold water, used to keep the oysters fresh, but it was all she knew and she was happy with her life. She was loved by her parents and siblings alike, but when she entered her teens, the bright lights of a nearby music hall began to call to her. She loved the variety acts that performed there, but the momentous night that she watched a male impersonator named Kitty, well, that was to be the night that saw her turn her back on her loving family, and take her into a world that would put dear old coastal Whitstable and the Astley family firmly in the past.

This is a story of girl meets girl, as Nancy and Kitty begin a new life together amidst the bright ( and sometimes not so bright ) lights of London and its music halls. The author is truly gifted and describes the sights and sounds backstage that made me reminisce about my visits many years ago to the City Varieties in Leeds in the north of England, built in 1865, it's a theatre that is as authentic a music hall as it's possible to get these days. However, I digress, so onto the storyline - Nancy wants much more from Kitty, but Kitty is afraid that people will discover the fact that they are lesbians - let's not forget this was the late 1800's! Eventually Nancy will move onto another relationship, ( one that is both abusive and destructive, ) and which sees Nancy used as a cross dressing sex slave ) but not before she spends a spell as a prostitute ( albeit dressed as a male ) and performing sexual acts for other males. I know I seem to have mentioned sex a lot, and some of these scenes are quite explicit, but they are rightly included as they play an important part in the storyline, however for some of the characters, relationships were secondary to the sex within said relationship, so it was difficult for me to have much empathy with them.

Whoa, what a crazy mixed up life Nancy and her friends lead, but the author makes this an irresistible read, and even though they're a narcissistic bunch, they make for truly interesting subjects. All in all a very enjoyable romp that brings Victorian England ( with its staid and stuffy views ) very much to life.

* Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for my ARC. I have given an honest review in exchange* Call this the lesbian version of Maurice.

Girl meets girl
& then another one
& then another! Odd that in the late 19th century England so many lesbians would all be out and about strolling the dirty streets. Even odder still that the heroine of the novel happens to stumble upon them all.

This took considerable research, I'm sure, and how cool is it to get this particular point of view?! The biggest mistake, however, was to give the narrative the first-person touch: making Nan King into a Bella-from-Twilight-type, i.e. clueless, trite, sometimes all too selfish girl, which eradicates any form of elegance that would have transformed this novel into something
much better. Plus, although it doesn't take too much imagination to guess what the title actually means, not until page 400 does the title finally make sense (& the primary reason I read this, I believe, had much to do with that strange title). Oh, gag! I have SO many problems with this book. What the hell was this supposed to be, anyway? I will go through the possibilities:

Historical Fiction
Set in the late 1800's, in stuffy Victorian England
we meet Nancy, a young lady who falls fast and hard for another young woman performing in a theatre. Yadda, yadda, yadda, they're a couple. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy is shocked that her sister doesn't accept this. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy meets and beds pretty much every female that subsequently crosses her path. If the character has a vagina, Nancy is sure to be 'tipping the velvet' with her in short order. I'm not sure if Sarah Waters meant this to be historically accurate, but I just can't believe that it is, in any way. Young people in THIS century have a hard time coming out. But Victorian Nance is loud and proud? And never seems to suffer because of it? I just didn't see this as authentic to the time at all, aside from the costumes.

Romance
It does tick off this box, I suppose, with Nancy's 500 pages of pining for Kitty. And all the sexy girl/girl scenes. But then, dear god, please explain the ENDING to me which was so very politically earnest I forgot what book I was reading! A socialism rally with every single lesbian in London in attendance?

Literary Fiction
Sarah Waters is a decent writer. It's because of her storytelling, that I finished this book. But I just couldn't take it seriously. Was I meant to? I'm so confused.

In addition to all these complaints, I really disliked the main character. Nancy didn't endear herself to me at all. She turfs her family, thinking more about the various men's suits she wears than her parents and siblings. She mistreats her friends. She CHOOSES to work the streets, and isn't in the least bit damaged by it.

The more I think about it, it occurs to me that more than anything this is a re-write of history giving voice to relationships that certainly DID happen in the 1800's but no one talked about. I can get my mind around that, but somehow it doesn't raise my appreciation of this book much. As seen on The Readventurer

Well, I definitely have never read anything like this before. I dare you to read this book's synopsis and not get curious at least a little bit. The moment I set my eyes on a short description of Tipping the Velvet on the 1001 Must Read Before You Die Books list, I knew I had to read it. Cross-dressing lesbians, kept women, music hall singers, renter boys - I mean, what's not to like?

First and foremost, this is a book about lesbians (my first!) and written by one at that, so as far as the relationships in this novel are concerned, they are authentic in my mind. (I don't know about you, but I just hate it when straight authors write gay books, particularly erotica. What can they possibly know?) I found myself quite ignorant of how such relationships work. Lesbian relationships, contrary to my uneducated beliefs, can be as abusive and destructive as the heterosexual ones. And, of course, there is lesbian sex. A few fairly explicit scenes, but the book doesn't turn into an overly gratuitous trashfest.

Second, in spite of its scandalous premise, the book is historically accurate. It comes as a shock to find out that there was a whole strata of women exploring their (homo)sexuality so freely in 1890s. After reading Edith Wharton's novels where women are too afraid to even get a divorce, it is a revelation to know that there were society women who kept female lovers and organized orgies. This, however, doesn't mean that in this book women go around doing whatever they please. Waters accompanies Nan's erotic adventures with a solid social context - same-sex relationships have to be secret, women known as toms are stigmatized, there is a legal punishment even.

I personally found this book very interesting. An imperfect, but strong debut. It is erotic without being vulgar, well researched but entertaining, well written without being boring. The only negative thing I have to say about it is that it takes a while for the story to pick up steam. The first 130 pages are a little dull, but after that the novel is impossible to put down. Needless to say, Tipping the Velvet won't be my last Sarah Waters novel.

P.S. Due to the naked women on the cover this edition is a little challenging to read in public. LESBIAN SEX SCENES!!!

I knew that's all you wanted to hear about. I'm going to go on with my review, but you're welcome to stop reading now that you know the juicy stuff. And no, I will not go on to describe, in dripping detail, any of the aforementioned LESBIAN SEX SCENES. For shame, I know.


So anyway, a while back, my friend Coventry had piles and piles of books she was giving away and this was one of them. Seeing that it was written by Sarah Waters, I nabbed it immediately and placed upon my shelf, waiting for just the right time to read what I was sure would be a delightful sapphic treasure. I'd read another of Sarah Waters' books a couple years back and it was perrrrfet!


[image error] It appears that currently the most common criticism of this book on goodreads is that it seems formulaic. Perhaps I am behind the times, but when did eloquent lesbian coming of age stories set in England 200 years ago become so commonplace as to even HAVE a formula?

Ultimately this is a love story embedded in a fluid tale of heart-pounding and heart-breaking moments over the course of Nan's life. Either the girl gets the girl/boy in the end, or the girl doesn't
predicting the ending with a fifty-fifty shot at getting it right does not make a book formulaic. IF, however, anyone who accuses this book of being so standard actually said to themselves in the first chapter well I bet this innocent oyster girl winds up falling in love with a crossdressing vaudevillian entertainer who will shortly be introduced as a character..and after that love affair goes awry approximately midway through the story she will probably have to turn to dressing as a male prostitute who gives handjobs to old men to make ends meet then I stand corrected. Personally, my internal magic eight ball didn't predict any of that.
I feel like I've been repeating other people's speeches all my life. Now, when I want to make a speech, I hardly know how.
If you are fretting over how to tell me you are leaving-
I am fretting, I said, over how to tell you how I love you; over how to say that you are the world to me.

3.5 stars. This was my first foray into the writing of Sarah Waters. According to my friends, I have been missing out on some great lit. Now I'm no longer out of the loop!

Tipping the Velvet follows a young lady named Nan over the course of several years. We start with the early stirrings of her new found sexuality as she finds herself gazing adoringly upon a young female performer dressed in male clothing. The story continues throughout the various changes in her life which force her to take a long internal look at not only how she views the world around her, but also at how she views herself.

This is my first experience with historical lit that subtly invokes moments which remind me of an artistic erotic painting - sensual, moving, yet not completely garish. The story of Nan is about more than just who she chooses to love. The sexual moments are merely one small part of a girl who is on the road to her own self-discovery.

The writing was absolutely beautiful. I loved Ms. Waters' descriptions of the setting, the clothing, and the characters. Little details were captured vividly in my head - even such insignificant things as when Kitty went to kiss Nan's hand and Nan drew it back out of fear that her hands would smell like the oyster liquor which came from her time of working at her parent's seafood house. The way that it was described almost made Nan even that much more charming - as if she were different in her own very special way by having an uncommon occupation.

One thing that I love to read about in books is when the story comes full circle. Every event in Nan's life shapes who she is in the next moment. Every event ties to the previous. I often talk about moments in time - this is a glimpse into the life of a girl who shared several rare moments with several rare and original personality types. This is part of what made the story special.

If you're looking for a traditional romance story, this will not be the book for you. However, if you're looking for a story about a character finding oneself, you might enjoy the journey of Nan King. why read charles dickens when you can read sarah waters

Tipping the Velvet PDF × Tipping the  Kindle -
    EPUB is an ebook file format that uses the epub is called up to London for an engagement on Grease Paint Avenue, Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act In time, Kitty Tipping the Kindle - breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual educationa sort of Moll Flanders in dragfinally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places. It's not often that I like a book, so listen up and listen well.

    If someone had given me the bare bones outline of Tipping the Velvet and suggest I read it, I'd have kindly told them to piss off. I have a job, a kid to raise, and an already low tolerance for contemporary fiction. A book about cross-dressing lesbians in Victorian England wouldn't spark enough interest in me to get past the title page.

    Silly me. Good thing I thought that tipping the velvet was a reference to the theater (hint: it's not) and mistakenly believed I was buying a book about East End actresses. This mistake was a blessing, and this novel renewed my faith in modern fiction.

    Tipping the Velvet carries a variety of themes that have bored me since my first Women's Studies classes in college: identity, cross-dressing, gender roles, and sexuality. Yet, alongside these nearly foreign concepts were the universal themes found in all great works of literature: passion, lust, betrayal, scandal, violence, redemption, and love. So, what did it leave me with? A book that shot a breath of life into all of those tired old themes. A book I couldn't put down, and not just for the positively raunchy (and at times touching) sex scenes that had me blushing to my hairline. No. What kept me hooked was the astoundingly good writing:

    When describing being backstage at the theater after a performance, I caught a glimpse of ladders and ropes and trailing gas-pipes; of boys in caps and aprons, wheeling baskets, manoeuvring lights. I had the sensation then - and I felt it again in the years that followed, every time I made a similar trip back stage - that I had stepped into the workings of a giant clock, stepped through the elegant casing to the dusty, greasy, restless machinery that lay, all hidden from the common eye, behind it.

    When telling us about a dirty mirror, we're told that the small looking glass [was] as cloudy and as speckled as the back of an old man's hand.

    When discussing the ways of her tyrannical lover: There is a way rich people have of saying 'What?' The word is honed, and has a point put on it; it comes out of their mouths like a dagger coming out of a sheath. That is how Diana said it now, in that dim corridor. I felt it pierce me through, and make me sag. I swallowed.

    Yeah. Writing like that will keep you up at night.

    The hot sex scenes? The bizarre gender roles that previously would have left me uninterested? The story itself? All just added bonuses. This chick could write about paint drying and make it fascinating. She makes cross-dressing, hooking, and other >ahem< unmentionables ;) seem completely exciting, alive, and blessedly normal. I love it.

    Finally. A work of fiction that doesn't suck or make me feel like I've gotten dumber by the time I've finished it.

    KICKED ASS. “Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it…”
    - Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet

    Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet is the gay Victorian epic you didn’t know you needed in your life. From its unsubtle opening come-on, to its sort-of pedantic ending, this is Charles Dickens with a twist. That twist – I don’t think this is a spoiler – happens to be a really specific description of a strap-on dildo.

    In my reading life, I don’t think I’ve come upon something like this before. Likely, I wouldn’t have, but for a bit of luck.

    By way of background, I’m a straight white male living in the conservative heartland of America who likes reading about the Civil War and drinking cheap white wine chilled with ice cubes. Just so we understand each other, I drink that wine out of a huge plastic wine glass that can almost be classified as a novelty.

    Thus, when Sarah Waters sits down to write her novels, I am likely not the intended audience for which she spins her yarns. Possibly, I am the furthest thing from it. Nevertheless, great fiction transcends all bounds. In other words, despite being classified as “gay fiction,” this is really just great fiction, a premium example of sublime storytelling.

    My first experience with Waters was at the end of 2014, with her novel, The Paying Guests. Intrigued by the marvelous reviews, and the promise of a little of the between-the-sheets action for which she is famous, I picked it up. Despite being far less risqué than I might have imagined – or hoped, if I’m being honest – it was an engrossing reading experience. This led me, by happy accident, to circle back to Waters’ first novel, Tipping the Velvet.

    Tipping the Velvet is a huge, messy, fun saga, the aforementioned Dickens spiced with some of Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, and more than a dash of My Secret Life. Imagine Pip from Great Expectations, except Pip is a headstrong lesbian who leaves his family, and Magwitch is a rich widow in the market for a cross dressing sex slave. That just about explains this sprawling, picaresque take on the classic coming-of-age story.

    Set in the 1890s, Tipping the Velvet is narrated in the first-person by Nancy “Nan” Astley, a young woman born and raised in Whitstable, Kent, where she works in her family’s oyster restaurant. (Waters gets points for many things. Subtle symbolism is not among them). When Nan opens her story, she has just begun to fall in love – from afar – with Kitty Butler, a masher who sings popular tunes while dressed in men’s clothing at a nearby theater. Nan goes to watch Kitty every chance she gets. Eventually, Nan becomes her dresser. Later they become friends. Soon enough, like every plucky, Victorian-era protagonist, Nan leaves home to follow Kitty to the big city. She gets on stage. She becomes Kitty’s lover. She meets with some success.

    And at some point, there is a bump on the road, and Nan’s real adventure begins.

    This is a book that I almost gave up on. Like The Paying Guests, it starts slowly. And I mean real slow. The most fundamental part of a story is conflict, and Waters, who is a deliberative writer, carefully setting the stage and piling on details, keeps the road smooth for a long time. (Just over 150 pages, more or less). But once Nan’s newfound life gets a little shakeup, the rest of the novel’s pages move at a much quicker pace.

    There are unforgettable supporting characters, unique set pieces (there is a bacchanal that trumps every party-scene in War and Peace), and a wonderfully recreated London, full of gritty, tactile details. Take, for instance, a description of a boarding room that Nan comes to inhabit:

    The room to which she led me was cramped and mean and perfectly colorless; everything in it – the wallpaper, the carpets, even the tiles beside the hearth – having been rubbed or bleached or grimed to some variety of gray. There was no gas, only two oil-lamps with cracked and sooty chimneys. Above the mantel there was one small looking-glass, as cloudy and as speckled as the back of an old man’s hand. The window faced the Market…All I really saw, however, was the bed – a horrible old down mattress, yellow at the edges and blackened in the middle with an ancient bloodstain the size of a saucer – and the door. The bed, for all its rankness, seemed at that moment wonderfully inviting…


    Tipping the Velvet is crammed with descriptions like this, from dance halls and back alleys to swank mansions and late-19th century gay bars. (Which is why it can be just as exasperating as it is thrilling). It is a London vaguely familiar from other novels, but peopled with a heretofore hidden gay community. It can be a bit exhausting, all the detail. Once the story starts careening, however, as it does around the halfway point, it becomes impossible to put down. The plot rambles propulsively from one extreme episode to another. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, except to repeat there is a dildo, and it is given a word-painting that really imprints the thing in your mind.

    Since I know you are wondering: There is sex within these pages. This should not surprise, since the title is slang for cunnilingus. Some of the sex is mildly graphic. Most of it, however, is contained within one extended sequence late in the book. You’ll know what part I’m talking about when you get there. Believe me, you’ll know.

    Nan is an engaging narrator and an incredibly drawn character. I’ve often found first-person narrators to be under-written ciphers, a vessel through which to view the novel’s world. Not here. Nan is never overshadowed by the fascinating supporting cast she keeps running into. She is complex, and often unlikeable (often really unlikeable). She abandons her family, and essentially forgets about them. She tries to drag people out of the closet, kicking and screaming. She is sexually aggressive and utterly selfish. At times, she doesn’t seem worthy enough to warrant our continued attention. In the end, though, the roundedness of her personality, the good and the bad, makes her arc all the more moving. Nan has a lot of different experiences – singer, prostitute, housekeeper, activist – and she earns every bit of happiness she garners.

    There are things I didn't love here. The plot is so expansive and digressive that it can feel directionless. This, coupled with the slow beginning, is enough to try one’s patience. Towards the end, Waters also gets a little preachy. Nan gets caught up in the labor movement, and we are treated to a slew of harangues that abruptly curb Nan’s hedonistic impulses. I bought the conversion, but just barely, and mostly because Waters had stored up some goodwill with me. Waters also hits certain themes hard, particularly the need to be true to your own identity. Tipping the Velvet is kind to those “toms” who boldly and openly live their lives, while pitying characters – such as Kitty – who want to keep their sexuality a secret. It’s a rather cruel dichotomy, especially given the setting.

    Ultimately, I was rewarded by sticking through to the end. I’m always searching for the mythical “novel to get lost in.” I did not expect to find it in a lesbian bildungsroman, but that is exactly what happened.

    I’m not in school anymore. There aren’t any teachers telling me what to read. I pick my own books, except when my book club picks them (and if I don’t like it, I don’t read the book, and pretend I did). I have a definite literary wheelhouse – a comfort zone. Of course, if you do the same exercise with the same muscle over and over, you plateau. Every once in a while, I try to shake things up, to dip outside what I obviously like and try something different. Sometimes that leads me to struggle with the canonical classics. Other times, it leads me to Sarah Waters. Reading Tipping the Velvet, with its new spin on old motifs, is like wandering a familiar city and finding a brand new part of town. Nancy Astley was born in Whitstable, Kent in the late nineteenth century. She's from an ordinary, hard working family, and from a very young age she helped in her parents fish restaurant shucking oysters until her fingers were red raw with the icy cold water, used to keep the oysters fresh, but it was all she knew and she was happy with her life. She was loved by her parents and siblings alike, but when she entered her teens, the bright lights of a nearby music hall began to call to her. She loved the variety acts that performed there, but the momentous night that she watched a male impersonator named Kitty, well, that was to be the night that saw her turn her back on her loving family, and take her into a world that would put dear old coastal Whitstable and the Astley family firmly in the past.

    This is a story of girl meets girl, as Nancy and Kitty begin a new life together amidst the bright ( and sometimes not so bright ) lights of London and its music halls. The author is truly gifted and describes the sights and sounds backstage that made me reminisce about my visits many years ago to the City Varieties in Leeds in the north of England, built in 1865, it's a theatre that is as authentic a music hall as it's possible to get these days. However, I digress, so onto the storyline - Nancy wants much more from Kitty, but Kitty is afraid that people will discover the fact that they are lesbians - let's not forget this was the late 1800's! Eventually Nancy will move onto another relationship, ( one that is both abusive and destructive, ) and which sees Nancy used as a cross dressing sex slave ) but not before she spends a spell as a prostitute ( albeit dressed as a male ) and performing sexual acts for other males. I know I seem to have mentioned sex a lot, and some of these scenes are quite explicit, but they are rightly included as they play an important part in the storyline, however for some of the characters, relationships were secondary to the sex within said relationship, so it was difficult for me to have much empathy with them.

    Whoa, what a crazy mixed up life Nancy and her friends lead, but the author makes this an irresistible read, and even though they're a narcissistic bunch, they make for truly interesting subjects. All in all a very enjoyable romp that brings Victorian England ( with its staid and stuffy views ) very much to life.

    * Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for my ARC. I have given an honest review in exchange* Call this the lesbian version of Maurice.

    Girl meets girl
    & then another one
    & then another! Odd that in the late 19th century England so many lesbians would all be out and about strolling the dirty streets. Even odder still that the heroine of the novel happens to stumble upon them all.

    This took considerable research, I'm sure, and how cool is it to get this particular point of view?! The biggest mistake, however, was to give the narrative the first-person touch: making Nan King into a Bella-from-Twilight-type, i.e. clueless, trite, sometimes all too selfish girl, which eradicates any form of elegance that would have transformed this novel into something
    much better. Plus, although it doesn't take too much imagination to guess what the title actually means, not until page 400 does the title finally make sense (& the primary reason I read this, I believe, had much to do with that strange title). Oh, gag! I have SO many problems with this book. What the hell was this supposed to be, anyway? I will go through the possibilities:

    Historical Fiction
    Set in the late 1800's, in stuffy Victorian England
    we meet Nancy, a young lady who falls fast and hard for another young woman performing in a theatre. Yadda, yadda, yadda, they're a couple. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy is shocked that her sister doesn't accept this. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy meets and beds pretty much every female that subsequently crosses her path. If the character has a vagina, Nancy is sure to be 'tipping the velvet' with her in short order. I'm not sure if Sarah Waters meant this to be historically accurate, but I just can't believe that it is, in any way. Young people in THIS century have a hard time coming out. But Victorian Nance is loud and proud? And never seems to suffer because of it? I just didn't see this as authentic to the time at all, aside from the costumes.

    Romance
    It does tick off this box, I suppose, with Nancy's 500 pages of pining for Kitty. And all the sexy girl/girl scenes. But then, dear god, please explain the ENDING to me which was so very politically earnest I forgot what book I was reading! A socialism rally with every single lesbian in London in attendance?

    Literary Fiction
    Sarah Waters is a decent writer. It's because of her storytelling, that I finished this book. But I just couldn't take it seriously. Was I meant to? I'm so confused.

    In addition to all these complaints, I really disliked the main character. Nancy didn't endear herself to me at all. She turfs her family, thinking more about the various men's suits she wears than her parents and siblings. She mistreats her friends. She CHOOSES to work the streets, and isn't in the least bit damaged by it.

    The more I think about it, it occurs to me that more than anything this is a re-write of history giving voice to relationships that certainly DID happen in the 1800's but no one talked about. I can get my mind around that, but somehow it doesn't raise my appreciation of this book much. As seen on The Readventurer

    Well, I definitely have never read anything like this before. I dare you to read this book's synopsis and not get curious at least a little bit. The moment I set my eyes on a short description of Tipping the Velvet on the 1001 Must Read Before You Die Books list, I knew I had to read it. Cross-dressing lesbians, kept women, music hall singers, renter boys - I mean, what's not to like?

    First and foremost, this is a book about lesbians (my first!) and written by one at that, so as far as the relationships in this novel are concerned, they are authentic in my mind. (I don't know about you, but I just hate it when straight authors write gay books, particularly erotica. What can they possibly know?) I found myself quite ignorant of how such relationships work. Lesbian relationships, contrary to my uneducated beliefs, can be as abusive and destructive as the heterosexual ones. And, of course, there is lesbian sex. A few fairly explicit scenes, but the book doesn't turn into an overly gratuitous trashfest.

    Second, in spite of its scandalous premise, the book is historically accurate. It comes as a shock to find out that there was a whole strata of women exploring their (homo)sexuality so freely in 1890s. After reading Edith Wharton's novels where women are too afraid to even get a divorce, it is a revelation to know that there were society women who kept female lovers and organized orgies. This, however, doesn't mean that in this book women go around doing whatever they please. Waters accompanies Nan's erotic adventures with a solid social context - same-sex relationships have to be secret, women known as toms are stigmatized, there is a legal punishment even.

    I personally found this book very interesting. An imperfect, but strong debut. It is erotic without being vulgar, well researched but entertaining, well written without being boring. The only negative thing I have to say about it is that it takes a while for the story to pick up steam. The first 130 pages are a little dull, but after that the novel is impossible to put down. Needless to say, Tipping the Velvet won't be my last Sarah Waters novel.

    P.S. Due to the naked women on the cover this edition is a little challenging to read in public. LESBIAN SEX SCENES!!!

    I knew that's all you wanted to hear about. I'm going to go on with my review, but you're welcome to stop reading now that you know the juicy stuff. And no, I will not go on to describe, in dripping detail, any of the aforementioned LESBIAN SEX SCENES. For shame, I know.


    So anyway, a while back, my friend Coventry had piles and piles of books she was giving away and this was one of them. Seeing that it was written by Sarah Waters, I nabbed it immediately and placed upon my shelf, waiting for just the right time to read what I was sure would be a delightful sapphic treasure. I'd read another of Sarah Waters' books a couple years back and it was perrrrfet!


    [image error] It appears that currently the most common criticism of this book on goodreads is that it seems formulaic. Perhaps I am behind the times, but when did eloquent lesbian coming of age stories set in England 200 years ago become so commonplace as to even HAVE a formula?

    Ultimately this is a love story embedded in a fluid tale of heart-pounding and heart-breaking moments over the course of Nan's life. Either the girl gets the girl/boy in the end, or the girl doesn't
    predicting the ending with a fifty-fifty shot at getting it right does not make a book formulaic. IF, however, anyone who accuses this book of being so standard actually said to themselves in the first chapter well I bet this innocent oyster girl winds up falling in love with a crossdressing vaudevillian entertainer who will shortly be introduced as a character..and after that love affair goes awry approximately midway through the story she will probably have to turn to dressing as a male prostitute who gives handjobs to old men to make ends meet then I stand corrected. Personally, my internal magic eight ball didn't predict any of that.
    I feel like I've been repeating other people's speeches all my life. Now, when I want to make a speech, I hardly know how.
    If you are fretting over how to tell me you are leaving-
    I am fretting, I said, over how to tell you how I love you; over how to say that you are the world to me.

    3.5 stars. This was my first foray into the writing of Sarah Waters. According to my friends, I have been missing out on some great lit. Now I'm no longer out of the loop!

    Tipping the Velvet follows a young lady named Nan over the course of several years. We start with the early stirrings of her new found sexuality as she finds herself gazing adoringly upon a young female performer dressed in male clothing. The story continues throughout the various changes in her life which force her to take a long internal look at not only how she views the world around her, but also at how she views herself.

    This is my first experience with historical lit that subtly invokes moments which remind me of an artistic erotic painting - sensual, moving, yet not completely garish. The story of Nan is about more than just who she chooses to love. The sexual moments are merely one small part of a girl who is on the road to her own self-discovery.

    The writing was absolutely beautiful. I loved Ms. Waters' descriptions of the setting, the clothing, and the characters. Little details were captured vividly in my head - even such insignificant things as when Kitty went to kiss Nan's hand and Nan drew it back out of fear that her hands would smell like the oyster liquor which came from her time of working at her parent's seafood house. The way that it was described almost made Nan even that much more charming - as if she were different in her own very special way by having an uncommon occupation.

    One thing that I love to read about in books is when the story comes full circle. Every event in Nan's life shapes who she is in the next moment. Every event ties to the previous. I often talk about moments in time - this is a glimpse into the life of a girl who shared several rare moments with several rare and original personality types. This is part of what made the story special.

    If you're looking for a traditional romance story, this will not be the book for you. However, if you're looking for a story about a character finding oneself, you might enjoy the journey of Nan King. why read charles dickens when you can read sarah waters "/>
  • Paperback
  • 472 pages
  • Tipping the Velvet
  • Sarah Waters
  • English
  • 09 March 2019
  • 9781860495243