Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet

by Sarah Waters

Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine.

At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Historical
  • Rating: 4.01
  • Pages: 472
  • Publish Date: May 1st 2000 by Riverhead Books, U.S.

Read the Book "Tipping the Velvet" Online

It's not often that I like a book, so listen up and listen well. 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. 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. 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. A work of fiction that doesn't suck or make me feel like I've gotten dumber by the time I've finished it.

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.

Thus, when Sarah Waters sits down to write her novels, I am likely not the intended audience for which she spins her yarns. 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. 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 familys oyster restaurant. (Waters gets points for many things. 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 mens clothing at a nearby theater. Nan goes to watch Kitty every chance she gets. Soon enough, like every plucky, Victorian-era protagonist, Nan leaves home to follow Kitty to the big city. And at some point, there is a bump on the road, and Nans real adventure begins. 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. But once Nans newfound life gets a little shakeup, the rest of the novels pages move at a much quicker pace. 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. Towards the end, Waters also gets a little preachy. 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. 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.

I dare you to read this book's synopsis and not get curious at least a little bit. 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. 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.

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...

we meet Nancy, a young lady who falls fast and hard for another young woman performing in a theatre. 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. Romance It does tick off this box, I suppose, with Nancy's 500 pages of pining for Kitty.

I'd read another of Sarah Waters' books a couple years back and it was perrrrfet!

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. The story of Nan is about more than just who she chooses to love. Every event in Nan's life shapes who she is in the next moment. However, if you're looking for a story about a character finding oneself, you might enjoy the journey of Nan King.

Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching.