Tipping the Velvet
Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty's dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.

Tipping the Velvet Details

TitleTipping the Velvet
Author
FormatPaperback
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 1st, 2000
PublisherRiverhead Books, U.S.
Number of pages472 pages
Rating
GenreHistorical Fiction, Fiction, Glbt, Historical, Romance, Queer

Tipping the Velvet Review

  • La Petite Américaine
    February 13, 2011
    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' 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.
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  • Tatiana
    April 29, 2010
    As seen on The ReadventurerWell, 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 As seen on The ReadventurerWell, 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 (with "equipment"!), 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.
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  • Amanda
    December 14, 2008
    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 sh 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]With Fingersmith as its predecessor in my personal library, I had such high expectations for Tipping the Velvet. Unfortunately, high expectations nearly always lead to the most crumbling downfalls. I'll give you a rundown of the story ('cause I know you're not gonna read it, so don't be all whiney that I'm including spoilers, ok?)Nancy is a young gal who falls madly and deeply in love with a pretty woman singer who subsequently invites Nancy to go on tour with her as her dresser. Nancy very soon becomes the woman's UNdresser as well (hubba hubba) and they go on like this for a while until one day Nancy returns home to find the woman singer in bed with (GASP!!!) a man. Gross, I know. So anyway, Nancy runs away, cries a lot, and hardly eats anything for like, 2 months, when she finally gets her shit together and becomes a prostitute. Or, well, maybe a gigolo is a better term for it--she dresses up as a dude and wanders the street blowing other dudes for sixpence. One day when she's off wandering the street, a horse-drawn carriage starts following her at a short distance (scary...), eventually stopping her on a dark corner to offer her "a ride." Well, you guessed it, the person in the carriage is a lady. The carriage lady is very rich and takes Nancy on as her concubine. So they go on for, like a year or something, with Nancy living in the rich lady's house and being a sex slave, when finally the rich lady gets sick of Nancy and kicks her out (after finding Nancy getting you-know-what-ed by the maid) with no money or clothes or anything. So Nancy runs to this house for wayward girls and poor young couples where she knows there's a bleeding-heart young woman working and the bleeding-heart young woman takes Nancy in and eventually they become lovers (of course) but then the pretty woman singer from the beginning shows up and says, "Nancy, come back to me!" But Nancy's like, "Hell no, bitch, you have a husband. Plus, my girlfriend is a super-popular, bleeding-heart socialist and all the honeys want her." So the singer goes away and Nancy and the bleeding-heart live happily ever after. It doesn't sound like such a bad story, I guess, but the ENTIRE middle part was just so contrived and gratuitous that I almost stopped reading it a couple times. And truth be told, I only read about 3 sentences per page for one of the chapters. It's unfortunate really, because, like I said, I liked Sarah Waters' other book soooooo much. Even the ending of Tipping the Velvet, which I liked fine enough I guess, didn't redeem the middle (prostitution and sex-slave) parts. Oh well. At least I've learned that "tipping the velvet" means cunnilingus--titillating huh?!I shall now go back to War and Peace to read of hairy-lipped Russian girls and their (only slightly) less-scandalous love lives. In the meantime, I have two thoughts.1. If I don't want my significant other watching porn, should I be allowed to read dirty books? I hate to put forth such a double standard... But I really REALLY don't want my significant other watching porn. (Not saying that he DOES.) Alas, a dilemma.2. Nothing ever feels like a first love, does it? There is no going back. And nothing can compare, can it? *sigh*
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  • Fabian
    September 15, 2011
    Call it the lesbian "Maurice." Girl meets girl... then another one... and 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 stumbles 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"- Call it the lesbian "Maurice." Girl meets girl... then another one... and 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 stumbles 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 type 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).
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  • Matt
    February 23, 2015
    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 (sometimes with ice cubes in the glass). 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, I stumbled upon her most recent book, The Paying Guests, at the end of 2014, when it began appearing on all the year-end ten-best lists. 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 (sometimes with ice cubes in the glass). 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, I stumbled upon her most recent book, The Paying Guests, at the end of 2014, when it began appearing on all the year-end ten-best lists. I was intrigued by the universal acclaim, and also – to be honest – the promise of all that lesbian sex that Waters is famous for writing about. Having enjoyed The Paying Guests, I circled back to Waters’ first novel, Tipping the Velvet. Tipping the Velvet is epic gay historical fiction. It’s a bit of Charles 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 twist 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 slooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww. 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. The door was solid, and had a key in it… 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, but I will say that at some point, Waters turns her keen eye for imagery to a strap-on dildo.(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). 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. 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 sprawling 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 awhile, 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.
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  • Stacia (the 2010 club)
    October 25, 2012
    "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 "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.
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  • Kelly
    April 27, 2008
    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 fift 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.
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  • Frankie
    October 4, 2016
    Awful. Terrible. Boring.First half of the book was better than the last half for sure. I know Sarah Waters books are a bit slow but jesus christ. So fucking boring! And that was with all the change and different stages/people in her (Nancys) lifeI listened to the audiobook in work over 2 weeks. I can now officially get rid of my physical copy because i never want to read or recommend this book to anyone. So glad i didnt choose to actually read the physical book. So impatient with this story. And Awful. Terrible. Boring.First half of the book was better than the last half for sure. I know Sarah Waters books are a bit slow but jesus christ. So fucking boring! And that was with all the change and different stages/people in her (Nancys) lifeI listened to the audiobook in work over 2 weeks. I can now officially get rid of my physical copy because i never want to read or recommend this book to anyone. So glad i didnt choose to actually read the physical book. So impatient with this story. And Nancy just irritated me.
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  • Alex
    October 29, 2013
    So maybe I Googled "literary smut." So?In the comments below my friends are all like, "and this is the best Google could do?" They're appalled. My friends have high smut standards? But the thing about the 1800s is they were basically the least smutty time in history, so a dildo goes a long way in that setting. And that is Sarah Waters' goal, no mistake: she wants to bring smut back to the Victorians. Girl-on-girl smut, to be exact. In her own words, "lesbo Victorian romps." Certainly there were So maybe I Googled "literary smut." So?In the comments below my friends are all like, "and this is the best Google could do?" They're appalled. My friends have high smut standards? But the thing about the 1800s is they were basically the least smutty time in history, so a dildo goes a long way in that setting. And that is Sarah Waters' goal, no mistake: she wants to bring smut back to the Victorians. Girl-on-girl smut, to be exact. In her own words, "lesbo Victorian romps." Certainly there were lesbo Victorian romps in the real Victorian olden days, but no one wrote them down because they were such a bunch of tightasses I don't know how anyone pooped. Waters has gone back to insert them. I'm not totally clear on the historical accuracy, and I don't think Waters is either; my feeling is that she's done her best (and she is a professional) but not sweated it too hard. Anyway, on the all-important question of is it hot, my answer is yes. Super hot for literary fiction, by which I mean "books where the unhot stuff is also good"; pretty tame for erotic fiction. There are strap-ons. And lots of oysters. And socialism!On the secondary question of is it good, my answer is hell yes: I was totally into this. It takes place in the 1890s as young Nan discovers she enjoys a good pair of pants; it tracks her through a number of misadventures involving pants. It's a bildungsroman. A lesbo Victorian bildungsroman. It's the lesbo Victorian bildungsroman we deserve. If this is the best Google can do for literary smut, it's quite good enough for me.
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  • Bonnie
    October 18, 2011
    Interested in more of my reviews? Visit my blog!4.5 starsSarah Water’s debut novel set in 1890s London is a delightfully shocking tale of exploring the boundaries of gender roles in the Victorian era. It's about finding out who you really are and being comfortable in your own skin and about overcoming heartache and finding love again.The Storyline’And was there at her side a slender, white-faced, unremarkable-looking girl, with the sleeves of her dress rolled up to her elbows, and a lock of lank Interested in more of my reviews? Visit my blog!4.5 starsSarah Water’s debut novel set in 1890s London is a delightfully shocking tale of exploring the boundaries of gender roles in the Victorian era. It's about finding out who you really are and being comfortable in your own skin and about overcoming heartache and finding love again.The Storyline’And was there at her side a slender, white-faced, unremarkable-looking girl, with the sleeves of her dress rolled up to her elbows, and a lock of lank and colourless hair forever falling into her eye, and her lips continually moving to the words of some street-singer’s or music-hall song?That was me.'Nancy is an oyster girl who works quite dutifully in her parent’s restaurant. It’s not until she goes with her sister Alice to Palace, an old-fashioned music hall, that her life is changed forever when she sets eyes on Kitty and sees her performance for the first time.’Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this there was a girl: the most marvelous girl – I knew it at once! – that I had ever seen.’When Nancy becomes intent on catching Kitty’s eye and having her notice her she begins going back to the Palace every night just to see her again and again. When Kitty throws a flower to Nancy in the crowd the two finally meet afterwards and a friendship is cultivated that slowly becomes much much more. Nancy becomes Kitty’s dresser and when she is offered a job in London Nancy decides she simply must go with her. The story continues to develop and as time progresses the two become even closer and eventually become lovers as the two eventually team up together on stage.’The act, I knew, was still all hers. When we sang, it was really she who sang, while I provided a light, easy second. When we danced, it was she who did the tricky steps: I only strolled or shuffled at her side. I was her foil, her echo; I was the shadow which, in all her brilliance, she cast across the stage. But, like a shadow, I lent her the edge, the depth, the crucial definition, that she lacked before.Final ThoughtsWhat follows is simply the beginning of Nancy’s story and it’s quite a memorable one. I must admit there were parts that were quite shocking that I wasn’t expecting (like when I found out what Tipping the Velvet really meant… haha!), but that was the beauty of the story, the beauty of Nancy’s story. The writing was honest, the characters were vibrant, and I loved each and every page. Sarah Waters is an absolutely gorgeous writer. Her words will intrigue you, they will astound you, and you won't be able to get them out of your head. I can’t wait to get my hands on more from her.
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  • Jem
    August 18, 2015
    A friend once told me she doesn't like historical lesfic because the sex is so underwhelming and I agree. Until I read this book. ;) An amazon reviewer calls it 'Victorian porn'--sounds like an oxymoron, doesnt it? Unabashed eroticism in a period of prudishness and high morality. In the context of modern lesfic, this book isn't much more erotic than our usual diet of lesfic romances. But perhaps the idea of same sex relationships, and some of the more risque situations and uhm...maneuvers made r A friend once told me she doesn't like historical lesfic because the sex is so underwhelming and I agree. Until I read this book. ;) An amazon reviewer calls it 'Victorian porn'--sounds like an oxymoron, doesnt it? Unabashed eroticism in a period of prudishness and high morality. In the context of modern lesfic, this book isn't much more erotic than our usual diet of lesfic romances. But perhaps the idea of same sex relationships, and some of the more risque situations and uhm...maneuvers made readers uncomfortable. :) I do wonder though, how they missed the masterful writing, the attention to detail, the amazing characterizations, and all the other little things that elevate this book to a classic. 'Tipping' follows the adventures of a young lady from her humble oyster-girl beginnings, to her accidental but no less impressive rise fronting London's performance halls, to her fall into ignominy along the back alleys of the city and the dark recesses of secret clubs and gatherings and her eventual attempt at redemption. It is a lush and sensous tale about a young woman's coming-of-age and coming-out. We get to see another side of Victorian-era London that we rarely read about, populated by mashers, toms, renters, mary-annes, tarts, (translatio: male impersonators, lesbians, prostitutes, ???) and their patrons and keepers. The book is a feast for the senses. The sights, sounds and smells of places like the oyster parlors in Whistable, the rowdy halls in Canterbury and West End, the dank london back alleys, the dreary working-class neighborhoods--all are so vividly illustrated we are instantly transported there. All the characters are so well drawn, most especially the main character Nan. Love her or hate her, it's impossible not to feel for her. There is a long stretch in the book where Nan descends into a self-pitying and self-absorbed mess, and buries herself in the hedonistic pleasures provided by the rich and idle. I considered not finishing the book at this point, but the excellent writing and the promise of better things to come (I peeked at reviews ;) kept me reading. And what a reward it was.
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  • Rainbow
    March 17, 2010
    I read this book because I read and loved Fingersmith. But Tipping the Velvet is way, way different. It's basically a really vivid -- ultimately romantic -- coming-out story about a girl in Victorian England. Sarah Waters is an incredible writer and even better storyteller.
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  • Regina
    September 21, 2010
    I wish there were more books like this story out there. Stories about groups of people in past time periods that have previously not been written about are very interesting. We seem to have an uncountable number of books about rich debutantes and heiresses during the Victorian era but not many about working class oyster girls, performers and lesbians. And I am on the record saying I want more books about oyster girls, performers and lesbians -- of any era. Tipping the Velvet can be generically d I wish there were more books like this story out there. Stories about groups of people in past time periods that have previously not been written about are very interesting. We seem to have an uncountable number of books about rich debutantes and heiresses during the Victorian era but not many about working class oyster girls, performers and lesbians. And I am on the record saying I want more books about oyster girls, performers and lesbians -- of any era. Tipping the Velvet can be generically described as a coming of age and self discovery book. It promises a happily ever after -- one perhaps not imagined but which is rewarding. Sarah Waters has a way with words. Her descriptions of sight and smell create atmosphere and absolutely textually enhance the story. The main character -- "Nan" - is one that I slowly began to root for and like but not a character I necessarily started off caring for. What struck me is how different the world I live in today is from even just the recent past. I cannot imagine having to abandon my family (perhaps) and be completely circumspect about my partner all because my partner was the same gender as myself. And of course I can't imagine that because I have never truly had to do that. Sarah Waters brings such sacrifices and unknown privilege to her readers but she does so in the guise of a beautiful and rewarding story. And yes, there are explicit scenes in this novel. An interesting aspect of the story is that to be free of the female gender role is to dress as a man and go out in public as a man. Women of this era lived highly restrictive lives and had very restrictive opportunities, but dressing as a man provided a freedom not only from male attention but from the restrictions imposed on females during this era. Being a woman as such a role was a defined during this era was by default limiting. Ms. Waters, plays with this concept. I have read one other book by Waters -- Affinity -- in both novels she effectively equate a woman's prescribed role and a woman's limitations in a society with a society's judgment of distaste for same-sex relationships. What really surprised me, is the acceptance by several characters of the same sex relationships. I have no framework from which to criticize their acceptance and I hope their was acceptance but I guess I am doubtful if such acceptance is historically accurate. But if you don't want to go heavy and think about societal analysis, you don't have to. Tipping the Velvet is beautifully written, interesting and yeah there is sex.
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  • Mel
    December 29, 2015
    My review on Prism Book Alliance...Lambda Literary Award winner in 2000, TIPPING THE VELVET tells the story of young Nancy Astley.She first finds her way from the simple life of an oyster girl, still living with her parents, to London in the 1880s, following her heart and the woman who caught it, into a live of performance and glamour and love.Later on, she discovers her sexuality in the hands of another woman, a rich lady who takes Nancy in as a kept girl.In the end, however, after ups and down My review on Prism Book Alliance...Lambda Literary Award winner in 2000, TIPPING THE VELVET tells the story of young Nancy Astley.She first finds her way from the simple life of an oyster girl, still living with her parents, to London in the 1880s, following her heart and the woman who caught it, into a live of performance and glamour and love.Later on, she discovers her sexuality in the hands of another woman, a rich lady who takes Nancy in as a kept girl.In the end, however, after ups and downs, she finally becomes a woman who has found her identity, love, purpose, and a home.Nancy’s journey is not an easy one, yet it is quite extraordinary. I could identify with her on many accounts.Leaving your parents behind and moving into another world leaves you estranged and brings upon a change that you can’t quite bridge.Searching for love and for one’s self, growing up, is not easy and often brings us to places that are not ideal but that we wouldn’t want to have missed because otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are now.In much detail and vividly written, Sarah Waters let’s us dive into another world in another time. The historical setting comes alive and can be easily experienced.The author’s writing style gripped me from the very first sentence and it still makes me smile because I never knew I wanted to know so much about oysters :)The writing is not flowery, yet time-appropriate and quite beautiful, like you can see in this quote where Nancy talks about Kitty, her first love: ‘When I see her,’ I said, ‘it’s like – I don’t know what it’s like. It’s like I never saw anything at all before. It’s like I am filling up, like a wine-glass when it’s filled with wine. I watch the acts before her and they are like nothing – they’re like dust. Then she walks on the stage and – she is so pretty; and her suit is so nice; and her voice is so sweet … She makes me want to smile and weep, at once. She makes me sore, here.’ I placed a hand upon my chest, upon the breast-bone. ‘I never saw a girl like her before. I never knew that there were girls like her …’ My voice became a trembling whisper then, and I found that I could say no more. TIPPING THE VELVET is solely written from Nancy’s point of view and divided into three different parts.While the first one is very romantic and lush and, in a way, very innocent, the second part is quite the opposite. I found it to be very interesting but also hard to witness in parts. Part three seems like a revival after the storm, and concludes with a very satisfying ending.Prominent themes throughout the book are sexual and gender identity, love, survival, and personal and social change. If you are interested in these topics, you should definitely give this book a try. I enjoyed reading this very much and I will surely read more books by the author.____________________________________Genre: lesbian historical fictionTags: theater/dancing, love, gender, sexuality, London 1890Awards: Lambda Literary Award 2000
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  • Emily O
    July 14, 2010
    When I first picked up this novel, I was expecting an exciting romp through Victorian England, complete with lesbians, a little sex, and lots of adventure. I wasn't exactly looking for a piece of classic literature. On that account, this book succeeded marvelously.Tipping the Velvet is the story of young Nancy Astley, who grew up cooking oysters at her parents shop and occasionally visiting the nearby theater/dance hall. There she meets Kitty Butler, a "masher," or male impersonator, with whom s When I first picked up this novel, I was expecting an exciting romp through Victorian England, complete with lesbians, a little sex, and lots of adventure. I wasn't exactly looking for a piece of classic literature. On that account, this book succeeded marvelously.Tipping the Velvet is the story of young Nancy Astley, who grew up cooking oysters at her parents shop and occasionally visiting the nearby theater/dance hall. There she meets Kitty Butler, a "masher," or male impersonator, with whom she falls desperately in love. She leaves her family home to travel as Kitty's dresser to London. In London she meets many new people and has many new experiences. She performs on the stage, gets her heart broken, lives as a kept woman, works as a male prostitute (yes, really), and meets many new and interesting people in London's underground lesbian community. She goes from love to heartbreak to heartlessness, and eventually finds love, friendship, and family in the most unlikely of places.Nan's education in life and love is a strange trip, but it is also a sensual one. There is quite a lot of sex in this book, and while I wouldn't necessarily describe it as "smutty," the contents are often NSFW, and it can definitely turn you on, no matter what your sexual orientation may be. I will admit to being slightly embarrassed about reading it in public.But aside from the sexiness, how was the book? Well, it was exactly what I expected it to be: exciting, titillating, escapist, and not of much substance. The writing wasn't excellent, but it was very good for a debut book. The story was occasionally hard to believe, with some interesting coincidences, but that is to be expected in this kind of novel. The characters weren't what I'd call flat, but they definitely weren't the beautifully rounded characters that can be found in some more substantial works of literature. All in all, it wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't a great one either. I enjoyed it too much while I was reading it to give it only three stars, but I didn't feel that it was memorable enough to deserve four. Tipping the Velvet would make a great pleasure read, but don't look to it for much more than that. Read all of my reviews at http://readingwhilefemale.blogspot.com/
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  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    September 30, 2012
    Here is me reading this book:Part 1: Yes!Part 2: Whaaaa?Part 3: Um, okay.Be warned: there be spoilers below. This book has a very clear and traditional structure, so once you recognize its contours there aren't many surprises, but my review gives away a lot.Tipping the Velvet seems to have a reputation as some kind of lesbian erotica. (That got your attention, didn't it?) The cover features a pair of strippers*, the blurb praises the book as "erotic," and even the title, as it turns out, is a Vi Here is me reading this book:Part 1: Yes!Part 2: Whaaaa?Part 3: Um, okay.Be warned: there be spoilers below. This book has a very clear and traditional structure, so once you recognize its contours there aren't many surprises, but my review gives away a lot.Tipping the Velvet seems to have a reputation as some kind of lesbian erotica. (That got your attention, didn't it?) The cover features a pair of strippers*, the blurb praises the book as "erotic," and even the title, as it turns out, is a Victorian euphemism for a sex act. I've got to think this is mostly about marketing, because there are no strippers in the book, and while there are a few fairly explicit sex scenes, it's not so far out of the norm for adult fiction.*I actually read the stripperiffic edition, although I've shelved a different one.So, what is this book actually about? Coming of age, with an emphasis on relationships. Nancy, our narrator, begins the story as a typical 18-year-old girl living on the Kentish coast in the 1880s. But her life is turned upside-down when she falls hard for a cross-dressing music hall singer, and the story follows her for the next several years until she finally discovers what she wants from life and love.So here is the part where I talk about plot details. Part 1 is great; I was very quickly drawn into Nancy's life and the intensity of her first love. The story is fun and exciting and Nancy is easy to relate to. Then, inevitably, things go sour, and Nancy runs away from her former life, to emerge as a "male" prostitute. Suddenly she's gorgeous and frivolous and lazy, bearing little resemblance to the person she was in Part 1. Part 2 seems deliberately over-the-top, with Nancy's choices representing the way people might feel (rather than actually behave) after their first nasty breakup. It's entertaining, with lots of sex and crossdressing, but mostly left me confused.Then comes Part 3, in which Nancy of course finds true love. I liked this better than Part 2, and Nancy starts to make some sense again, but it doesn't quite come together. There's little reason for the two characters to be together beyond physical attraction and proximity, and too much character development is put off till the final pages, with the curtain closing on a flurry of epiphanies.Even for a coming-of-age story, Nancy is quite the chameleon, so while she's interesting to read about, her personality is elusive. On the other hand, the rest of the cast is well-drawn and interesting. This is one of those books that shows a whole cross-section of society, and it depicts life in Victorian London in great detail, bringing the setting alive in all of its sights, sounds and smells. The book wears its research lightly: grounded in the historical period and fascinating in its detail, but without the research getting in the way of Nancy's adventures.The panorama of lesbian life at the time (from rich ladies' clubs to the working-class women who gather in the basement of a pub) is especially intriguing, and I appreciate that, unlike much of the fiction I've encountered featuring LGBT characters, the story never turns into a tale of persecution and discrimination. Certainly those tales should be told, and Waters doesn't lose sight of the fact that Victorian England was hardly a paradise of equality. But it's nice to read a different kind of story, and one that focuses on the protagonist's own choices and growth rather than other people acting on her.Overall, a fairly good book. The writing is noticeably better than average, although I wouldn't quite call it literary, the historical background is excellent and the characterization good. The story doesn't live up to the expectations the first 100 or so pages created, which is why I give 3.5 stars. But it is still worth a read.
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  • Daniel
    July 17, 2007
    I was first made aware of this book by the BBC miniseries, which played on BBC America last year. My wife and I liked it, and I got my wife the novel for her birthday, and ever since Sept. she has been bugging me to read the novel. With the DVD coming out, I decided to finally read it. Wow. Lemme say that again: Wow.First of all, Sarah Waters is an amazing writer that from now on will forever remain on the Favorites list at my house. Tipping the Velvet is a great debut novel by a great writer, a I was first made aware of this book by the BBC miniseries, which played on BBC America last year. My wife and I liked it, and I got my wife the novel for her birthday, and ever since Sept. she has been bugging me to read the novel. With the DVD coming out, I decided to finally read it. Wow. Lemme say that again: Wow.First of all, Sarah Waters is an amazing writer that from now on will forever remain on the Favorites list at my house. Tipping the Velvet is a great debut novel by a great writer, and that is a rare treat to find. Concerning the story of Nancy, a young girl from the British countryside, Tipping the Velvet develops as a coming-of-age story set in Victorian England. Nancy falls in love with Kitty Butler, a theatre performer who dresses up as a chap and sings songs (and who I totally despise) and eventually ends up in London, working alongside Kitty on the city theatre stages. From there the story develops as we see Nan go through hell (pretty much literally) and back, all while she tries to find herself and her place in the world. That Nan happens to be a tom (Victorian equivalent of lesbian) and that this coming-of-age story involves quite a few sexual scenes is a nice extra, but not the main drive. Tipping the Velvet is a story where the protagonist happens to be a lesbian protagonist, not a lesbian story; there's a difference, and it shows. Waters is always out to write a good novel, and even when she is using the elements of the various genres she mixes (Victoriana, lesbian, etc) she weaves them according to her rules, not the rules of the genre. This alone makes Tipping a rare novel. Coupled with Waters' uncanny ability to write in a Victorian voice more than 100 years later, and a style that grabs you and does not let go (I mean, her prose is simply addictive), the result is a novel that is as tender as it is bawdy. Simply put, this was a great book, made even better by the fact that it is only the initial offering from a very gifted writer. If this is only the first book by Sarah Waters, I cannot imagine what her other two are like, and what she has in store for us in the future.
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  • Caro M.
    August 10, 2013
    What enchanted me most in this book was the language. Waters is just so so good! You have to read it for this, if not for the story. And Victorian London looks very real without too many tiresome descriptions.Our narrator, Nancy, falls for a girl, a cross-dressing singer. She leaves her home town by the sea, makes a career, of sorts, in London, then everything changes for her and then everything changes for her again. And again. It's all very well written and unexpected turns come one after anot What enchanted me most in this book was the language. Waters is just so so good! You have to read it for this, if not for the story. And Victorian London looks very real without too many tiresome descriptions.Our narrator, Nancy, falls for a girl, a cross-dressing singer. She leaves her home town by the sea, makes a career, of sorts, in London, then everything changes for her and then everything changes for her again. And again. It's all very well written and unexpected turns come one after another, and you'll never get bored. But all the time I kept thinking about Moll Flanders. Don't get me wrong, it's not the same, it's far from Moll's "adventurous" life. But it's THIS kind of story.So the story itself isn't really that original, it's a rather traditional love and romance with a little bit of complications and a little bit of gay lovin'. Erotic scenes take a lot of place in book, it's all very beautifully written but also graphic, so if you're not into gay/erotic stuff, you should probably avoid it...I didn't really like Nancy's character for a long time, she seemed to be too selfish and pleasure seeking mostly, but at same time she was brave and honest, so I guess she was a good lad after all. Good story, great language, interesting characters - what's not to like?
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  • Corbin Dodge
    April 2, 2008
    The Gothic Victorian Lesbian genre does exist! In fact, there could not be a more perfect description of Sarah Waters' novels. Part Dickinsonian, part erotica, part mystery, her characters in 'Tipping the Velvet' explore the sexually mischievious underworld of London in the late 1800's. That being said, I'm still quite critical of this book.The novel was slow to pick-up until about 10 pages before book 2. Before that I was having to convince myself that hanging in there was going to be worth the The Gothic Victorian Lesbian genre does exist! In fact, there could not be a more perfect description of Sarah Waters' novels. Part Dickinsonian, part erotica, part mystery, her characters in 'Tipping the Velvet' explore the sexually mischievious underworld of London in the late 1800's. That being said, I'm still quite critical of this book.The novel was slow to pick-up until about 10 pages before book 2. Before that I was having to convince myself that hanging in there was going to be worth the wait. My only interest in this book was a running curiousity of what the author wass going to pull next. The main reason that I feel the book has yet to fulfill a drive is that the protagonist, Miss Nancy King, is completely naive and has less self-awareness than an ant. There doesn't seem to be any motivation behind her actions--it's more like what she does next just occurs to her and some sort of force pulls her from one situation to the next (*cough, Waters). It's really, really, really pathetic.Her gender identity is so fluid, that it's as if it doesn't exist at all. What happens to be in her wardrobe is the best indicator of her gender role at the moment.Certainly Waters' pivotel work was 'Fingersmith.' It set the stage for all of her works--whether they were written prior to or after its publication. If I were making a recommendation of a Waters book--It would no doubt be 'Fingersmith' instead.
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  • Sarah Sammis
    June 8, 2007
    I was unimpressed with the book. Sarah Waters appears to be a one note writer. Sure, she changes the setting and the time period but her cardboard cutout characters are the same. There is always the naive young woman who falls for the more worldly but jaded woman and learns of the forbidden love only to scare her new soul mate straight! There you go, that's the twist to every one of Waters's books that I've read so you might as well save yourself the time and read something better.Also in Tippin I was unimpressed with the book. Sarah Waters appears to be a one note writer. Sure, she changes the setting and the time period but her cardboard cutout characters are the same. There is always the naive young woman who falls for the more worldly but jaded woman and learns of the forbidden love only to scare her new soul mate straight! There you go, that's the twist to every one of Waters's books that I've read so you might as well save yourself the time and read something better.Also in Tipping the Velvetyou might learn something about oysters and where the best ones are apparently harvested. You can learn how to prepare oysters and how to eat them. All this information is in the first chapter. It is by far the most interesting chapter of the entire novel.
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  • BrokenTune
    November 1, 2014
    4.5* really, but not quite 5*"And last of all I had a fondness – you might say, a kind of passion – for the music hall; and more particularly for music-hall songs and the singing of them. If you have visited Whitstable you will know that this was a rather inconvenient passion, for the town has neither music hall nor theatre – only a solitary lamp-post before the Duke of Cumberland Hotel, where minstrel troupes occasionally sing, and the Punch-and-Judy man, in August, sets his booth."Delicious, s 4.5* really, but not quite 5*"And last of all I had a fondness – you might say, a kind of passion – for the music hall; and more particularly for music-hall songs and the singing of them. If you have visited Whitstable you will know that this was a rather inconvenient passion, for the town has neither music hall nor theatre – only a solitary lamp-post before the Duke of Cumberland Hotel, where minstrel troupes occasionally sing, and the Punch-and-Judy man, in August, sets his booth."Delicious, sensuous, fun. These are not usually the first words that come to my mind when describing what essentially is a Bildungsroman - a coming of age story.This one was!Set in the late 1880s, early 1890s, nine-teen year old Nancy Astley falls in love: first with the theatre, then with a music hall star. What follows is a topsy-turvy romp of an education of girl from a rather sheltered background who embarks on life: "I remembered Walter saying that we were at the very heart of London, and did I know what it was that made that great heart beat? Variety! I had looked around me that afternoon and seen, astonished, what I thought was all the world’s variety, brought together in one extraordinary place. I had seen rich and poor, splendid and squalid, white man and black man, all bustling side by side. I had seen them make a vast harmonious whole, and been thrilled to think that I was about to find my own particular place in it, as Kitty’s friend. How had my sense of the world been changed, since then! I had learned that London life was even stranger and more various than I had ever thought it; but I had learned too that not all its great variety was visible to the casual eye; that not all the pieces of the city sat together smoothly, or graciously, but rather rubbed and chafed and jostled one another, and overlapped; that some , out of fear, kept themselves hidden, and only exposed themselves to those upon whose sympathies they could be sure."Despite all her errors in judgement, Nancy is such a great character that I could hardly put the book down to hear her story, wanting to make sure she would be ok and at times envying her freedom from care at the same time. I should point out that my rating system is rather conservative and that I reserve 5* for books that truly knock me over, and that will stay with me for a long, long time to come.The only reason that keep me from giving Tipping the Velvet my full five stars is that some of the dialogue is a little too forced, too smooth - a minor flaw that vanishes into insignificance when compared to many other novels (especially in the romance genre) because the writing is still excellent. However, knowing that The Night Watch and The Paying Guests are just that little bit more powerful (in my estimation) it does not feel right to rate Tipping the Velvet at the same level of excellence.Review first posted on BookLikes: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/...
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  • else fine
    May 28, 2010
    My coworker dubbed this "Victorian Dildos for Dummies" and now it's all I can think of when I look at the cover. Nice details and lovely descriptions provide a slightly hollow framework for the book's bland protagonist as she explores the various lesbian subcultures of Victorian London. Given the book's sensational characteristics - cross dressing stage performers! jaded lesbian orgies! socialists! male prostitutes! - it's surprisingly boring. I admired the research but couldn't give a shit abou My coworker dubbed this "Victorian Dildos for Dummies" and now it's all I can think of when I look at the cover. Nice details and lovely descriptions provide a slightly hollow framework for the book's bland protagonist as she explores the various lesbian subcultures of Victorian London. Given the book's sensational characteristics - cross dressing stage performers! jaded lesbian orgies! socialists! male prostitutes! - it's surprisingly boring. I admired the research but couldn't give a shit about the actual story. I hear her other books are better.
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  • Carla
    June 2, 2014
    Um fresco irreverente da Londres Vitoriana onde seguimos o percurso camaleónico de Nancy Astley, um percurso de descoberta da sexualidade, de decadência e de redenção.Wilton's music hall
  • Nnenna
    December 13, 2016
    4.5 starsThis is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read, but I think I can safely call myself a fan of her work. This book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.Nan is an ordinary girl living in the seaside town of Whitsable in the late 1800s. In her spare time, she loves venturing to the music hall. On one of these trips, she sees Kitty Butler, a saucy, male impersonator, for the first time. Nan is thoroughly captivated by Kitty’s demeanor and performance, and once the tw 4.5 starsThis is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read, but I think I can safely call myself a fan of her work. This book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.Nan is an ordinary girl living in the seaside town of Whitsable in the late 1800s. In her spare time, she loves venturing to the music hall. On one of these trips, she sees Kitty Butler, a saucy, male impersonator, for the first time. Nan is thoroughly captivated by Kitty’s demeanor and performance, and once the two actually meet, Nan’s life will never be the same.Did I mention how much I loved this novel? The writing is so wonderfully descriptive and wistful. Nan’s family is in the oyster business, and when Waters writes about preparing the oysters, I can nearly taste them in my mouth. The descriptions of the hustle and bustle of London were fascinating and gave me further insight into that time period. I also loved the use of Victorian slang and sometimes paused to look up these words that were entirely new to me.I’m a secret romantic (or maybe everyone already knows by now), so I loved the slow burn of these two young women falling in love. All of the sweetness and the pain and the uncertainty of first love is captured in this story. On top of that, it’s a love that must be kept secret because it’s considered “unnatural,” which of course makes things even more complicated. There are quite a few sensual scenes in this book, but they don’t feel like they were included for shock value, but instead to show the natural progression of the relationship between these two women.What I found most astonishing was Nan’s transformation over the course of this novel. I could not have predicted that the Nan we meet at the beginning of the story would end up where she does. Nan is around eighteen when the novel begins and we witness her becoming her own person, which is rather exciting. Physical transformation is also explored, as Nancy falls in love with a woman who dresses like a man. In fact, the act of transformation through clothing is an important theme throughout the book.So, in short, I loved the history, the romance, the discussion of gender roles, and pretty much this entire book. I found this to be an immersive reading experience. I’d look up from the book after a while and realize that I’d been reading for an hour or more (usually when I should have been in bed, asleep!). I already cannot wait for my next Sarah Waters novel.
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  • Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
    December 3, 2016
    Hoooooo boy. This was quite a ride. I bought this last year after reading and LOVING Fingersmith with every fibre of my being. So I figured I'd try Sarah Waters' other most well known book. And then for some inexplicable reason, I put off reading it for a freaking year. This one is similar in that it features a working class girl leaving home to become a servant to a more well off girl of a similar age and WHOOPS LESBIANISM. But it's also...far more confronting? Fingersmith is shocking in its am Hoooooo boy. This was quite a ride. I bought this last year after reading and LOVING Fingersmith with every fibre of my being. So I figured I'd try Sarah Waters' other most well known book. And then for some inexplicable reason, I put off reading it for a freaking year. This one is similar in that it features a working class girl leaving home to become a servant to a more well off girl of a similar age and WHOOPS LESBIANISM. But it's also...far more confronting? Fingersmith is shocking in its amazing plot twists. This is similarly shocking but more for its content (including but not limited to the title...). Nancy's life with Kitty is pretty vanilla - Kitty's as solidly in the closet as you can get, and doesn't want anyone to know that her cross dressing act goes further. But the story heads rapidly towards London's seedy underbelly. (view spoiler)[Nancy walks the streets disguised as a boy, giving blowjobs and handjobs to anyone who'll pay her. She becomes involved with a rich noblewoman named Diana, who more or less treats Nancy as a sex slave, with sex toys aplenty. And then after finding herself back on the streets, Nancy turns to an East End do-gooder, striking up a friendship with her before discovering that said do-gooder is also of the WLW persuasion, culminating in a pretty cute relationship and a rather graphic fisting scene. (hide spoiler)]The writing, as you would expect with Sarah Waters, shows very clear Dickensian influences. It's beautiful, but description-heavy, full of characters that leap off the page. Did I love it? Absolutely. Did I personally prefer Fingersmith? YUP. But if you're in it for the WLW sexytimes, this one is probably the one to pick.
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  • Ygraine
    September 26, 2016
    i felt strangely (or perhaps, not so strangely) heartbroken when i had to close this book. i forget, i think, how much i need fictional spaces that speak with tenderness and care of the thousands of ways that women can love women. i forget how deeply i feel their friendships and their intimacies and their fierce loves, how hungry i am to be reminded of the jealousies and all the hurts that a life accumulates, gathers to itself and nurses, but of the healing too, of falling in love again and agai i felt strangely (or perhaps, not so strangely) heartbroken when i had to close this book. i forget, i think, how much i need fictional spaces that speak with tenderness and care of the thousands of ways that women can love women. i forget how deeply i feel their friendships and their intimacies and their fierce loves, how hungry i am to be reminded of the jealousies and all the hurts that a life accumulates, gathers to itself and nurses, but of the healing too, of falling in love again and again, of learning and relearning what it means to want women and to choose women, unafraid and unashamed.
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  • Wendy Darling
    November 12, 2009
    Absorbing and complex. I loved the descriptions of Nan's early life as an "oyster girl" and how she gradually discovers who she is and how she fits into her Victorian world.
  • Liina Bachmann
    July 27, 2016
    I'm a sucker for all things Victorian era and this is an extraordinarily fresh take on the subject. I will not do the "blurb" here because you can read the book introduction for that. I will just say that I usually read books with relatively low entertainment level, mostly classics or novels where story isn't *the* main thing that carries it. "Tipping the Velvet" is a pure form of entertainment and it highly succeeds in that. Plus you get a good picture of infamously prude Victorians from anothe I'm a sucker for all things Victorian era and this is an extraordinarily fresh take on the subject. I will not do the "blurb" here because you can read the book introduction for that. I will just say that I usually read books with relatively low entertainment level, mostly classics or novels where story isn't *the* main thing that carries it. "Tipping the Velvet" is a pure form of entertainment and it highly succeeds in that. Plus you get a good picture of infamously prude Victorians from another angle. Some of the plots twists were pretty predictable and I wish Waters would have hidden them better, so I would have been more surprised but thats a minor issue, really. It kept me up 'til 2AM and yes, the sex scenes were indeed very hot.
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  • Avory
    February 3, 2009
    Don't be put off because you don't like Victorian literature. If you're like me, and you enjoy lesbian fiction, and you enjoy blunt, realistic depictions of sex and relationships, you'll like this book. Waters has a fabulous narrative style and she plays with sex and gender in this book in a fabulous way. Unlike many lesbian novels, it has a satisfying ending, and though it's long, the length is necessary to negotiate the differing approaches she presents to lesbianism, sex, and relationships. R Don't be put off because you don't like Victorian literature. If you're like me, and you enjoy lesbian fiction, and you enjoy blunt, realistic depictions of sex and relationships, you'll like this book. Waters has a fabulous narrative style and she plays with sex and gender in this book in a fabulous way. Unlike many lesbian novels, it has a satisfying ending, and though it's long, the length is necessary to negotiate the differing approaches she presents to lesbianism, sex, and relationships. Read this book.
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  • helen the bookowl
    February 23, 2015
    This book was a pleasant surprise to me because it was so different from what I normally read. I knew that Sarah Waters publishes a lot of LGTB literature, and I had heard many amazing things about this specific book, so I eventually decided to pick it up. I was in love with the beginning. Nancy and her family and their life of oysters were adorable. Even though Nancy herself was a bit bored with her life, I loved reading about it, and I loved how the story progressed with the beautiful introduc This book was a pleasant surprise to me because it was so different from what I normally read. I knew that Sarah Waters publishes a lot of LGTB literature, and I had heard many amazing things about this specific book, so I eventually decided to pick it up. I was in love with the beginning. Nancy and her family and their life of oysters were adorable. Even though Nancy herself was a bit bored with her life, I loved reading about it, and I loved how the story progressed with the beautiful introduction to Kitty and Nancy's feelings for her. This was refreshing to read about and I liked it. Another thing that was quite refreshing was the shocking and blunt language. Sarah Waters takes chances and is not afraid to shock the reader and I loved it. The blunt language enhanced both the story and Nancy as a character, and even though some people might find it too shocking, I felt like it was appropriate for the story. During this book, Nancy goes through such a tremendous change and so many devastating stages of life that you almost don't recognize the oyster-girl by the end of the book. Sadly, I didn't like the way her personality was going and the way she constantly stopped caring for people she left behind. I was especially sad to realize that she turned her back to her own family - personally, I couldn't see no fault with them. That didn't prevent me from enjoying reading about her journey and being stunned at all the things that were thrown her way, though. I didn't find the ending of the book very satisfying. I felt like Sarah Waters could have taken the story in so many other, interesting directions, but she kind of chose "the easy way out". Maybe some people don't agree with me, which is perfectly fine, but it saddened me that a story that started out this strong faded out a bit for me in the end. However, alone for its shock value and very interesting and refreshing storyline, I would recommend this book to anyone who's interested in LGTB and is not afraid of blunt language, scenes and characters.
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