Tipping the Velvet
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Tipping the Velvet

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  28,806 ratings  ·  1,347 reviews
"Lavishly crammed with the songs, smells, and costumes of late Victorian England" (The Daily Telegraph), 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 cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitt...more
Paperback, 472 pages
Published May 1st 2000 by Riverhead Trade (first published January 1st 1998)
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sckenda
Jun 26, 2014 sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Unique Voice, of Transformations, and of Oysters
Nan Astley walks the smoky alleys and the resplendent public squares of London from 1885-1890 searching for herself. Nan loves music halls, cigarettes, mens' clothing-- and oysters. She describes the scent of “oyster-liquor” and brine on her fingers. Oysters hint of a larger world and foreshadow her heart’s deepest longings. Self-discovery and transformation are the dominant ideas in this book.

Indeed, Nan declares herself an “oyster girl, steeped in the flavors of the trade,” and one who never...more
Tatiana
Dec 30, 2010 Tatiana rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people curious about this sort of thing
Recommended to Tatiana by: 1001 Must Read list
Shelves: 1001, historical, 2010
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...more
Amanda
Aug 15, 2010 Amanda rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Not anyone really, but I won't stop you from reading it either.
Recommended to Amanda by: From Coventry's "take my books" party
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...more
La Petite Américaine
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'...more
Stacia (the 2010 club)
Nov 06, 2012 Stacia (the 2010 club) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Stacia (the 2010 club) by: Buddy read with Regina
"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...more
Kelly
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...more
Bonnie
Jul 11, 2014 Bonnie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bonnie by: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die
Interested in more of my reviews? Visit my blog!

4.5 stars
Sarah 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...more
Emily  O
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...more
Daniel
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...more
Regina
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...more
Corbin
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...more
Sarah Sammis
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...more
Sarah Keliher
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...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
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...more
Avory
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...more
Her Royal Orangeness
Set in Victorian England, “Tipping the Velvet” is about the sexual awakening of Nancy Astley/Nan King. The book follows her journey from an innocent young woman falling in love with a cross-dressing music hall performer, to her escapades as a transvestite prostitute, to her experience as an s&m slave of a wealthy woman.

Two things bothered me greatly about “Tipping the Velvet.” One, women are often only attracted to other women if they are dressed as men, and men are only attracted to other...more
Nancy Oakes
I LOVED this book, and I always recommend it when someone is looking for a good read.

The action happens in the 1890s, beginning in a seaside town in Kent. The main character is Nancy Astley, who helps out the family oyster bar business . She is a fan of music hall theater, and on one trip sees Kitty Butler, a singer who impersonates men as part of her act, and finds herself falling for her. One thing leads to another, and she becomes Kitty's dresser and off to London they go. In just a seven-ye...more
Fiona
When, last month, I selected this book from the collection of Sarah Waters novels upon my bookcase I was seriously struggling with my focus, concentration and motivation; I hoped, but I certainly did not expect (given my horridly-frustrating state of my mind), that this book might remedy me. From my perspective, 'Tipping the Velvet' was an absolute delight to read because it did not make any demands of me - Sarah Waters' debut novel applied a generous dollop of salve to my spirit which very much...more
Kym
Dec 05, 2008 Kym rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Burlesque lovers everywhere
Recommended to Kym by: Bookstore worker in the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, NY
What a sumptuous era! Makes me want to be in music halls...

Lots of red velvet, grime, squalor and lust. Perfect. I love when Nancy's smoking on the little balcony off her room, just thinking, and looking over London. Profound. The characters are fabulous, and the Victorian backdrop is breathtaking, so even though it's about a love affair between to girls, I would recommend this to anyone who loves period stories and good writing!
El
If Charles Dickens were a woman writing today I have a feeling he would be Sarah Waters.

Late 19th century England, following the life of Nancy, a small-town young woman in the oyster business with her family. She falls for a male impersonator, Kitty Butler, and ultimately runs off to join Kitty on the stage. From there it's a series of women loves and infatuations. There's some hot, lesbian lovin' here - and yes, I do believe Dickens would make a great lesbian writer today.

I'm not sure what I in...more
Katie
I picked this up because it was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and because it is a genre I have never read: lesbian fiction.

The book is billed as a coming of age story, and is about a young woman from the seaside (read: poor country bumpkin) in Victorian England, who falls in love with a female vaudeville-esque stage performer and runs off to London (read: corrupted by the big city) with her.

Let me start off by saying that I like Waters's writing style quite a bit. She has a fl...more
Cherie
From the publisher: 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 cross-dressing music-hall 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 and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her he...more
Tory
Tipping the velvet = cunnilingus. I had no idea. Along with all the other late 1800’s English slang in this book.

I bought it at a car boot sale, because an old granny type recommended it to me and called it ’saucy’! I had to know what she thought saucy!

It wasn’t trashy… it had some bits of lesbian sex that might have made me blush, but it was never trashy.

It was like East of Eden meets Charles Dickens.

Very good book, I’d never read a story like it. I was very impressed with it.
Wendy Darling
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.
Paula
Have you ever read a book that took you away from the world? One where, when you set it down, you had to remind yourself of your own reality? A book where you met a character and found yourself feeling as though you accompanied them through the book?

This was that book. I felt as though I were the proverbial 'fly on the wall' throughout the story of Nancy Astler, who was an 18-yr-old English girl at the start of the book. Set in the late 19th century, this work by Sarah Waters explores a side of...more
Cathleen
I'm pretty sure I've never read a story with so much trembling, and that is saying a lot given my love of nineteenth-century novels. Good grief. There was trembling from fear, from sexual anticipation, from cold, from sadness. Smell some bacon? Tremble. See an old lover? Tremble. Thinking of dipping fingers into a warm vulva? Tremble. Notice some lint on one's jacket? Tremble. Expecting rain tomorrow? You know the drill. Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but it was too much and over the top even for a...more
Joyce Lagow
One of the more infuriating developments in the past few years is the insistence by those who claim to be feminists that if a politician is female, you must vote for her, even if you loathe her policies and feel that her only beliefs are whatever the latest polls say will give her victory. On the literary front, if an author is female, you must read her and like her; if the author is a lesbian, her books are gold. The fact of the matter is that most politicians, whether male or female, are unequ...more
Michael
Nan King is an oyster girl in a small seaside town who dreams of a better life. Her life drastically changes when she falls in love with a Masher named Kitty Butler. When Kitty is called back to London for a new show, Nan decides to join her and work as her dresser. Their love is forbidden and they keep it a secret but it’s inevitably doomed. When the relationship ends, Nan has to face London on her own, this is when her adventure of sexual discovery truly begins.

I was told by my sister in law t...more
graycastle
Like all of Sarah Waters' novels, this book is sensual to the point of being almost tactile: she takes such great delight in the detailed world that she creates. This is one of her rewriting-Victorians novels, and is probably my favourite. It's certainly the most racy: people who come to this book from Affinity, which is much more fade-to-black and dignified, will probably be a bit surprised by the erotica scenes. But, oh god, what great erotica scenes! This book, more than any of her others, pl...more
Rainbow
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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25334
Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel....more
More about Sarah Waters...
Fingersmith The Little Stranger Affinity The Night Watch The Paying Guests

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“Being in love, you know... it's not like having a canary, in a cage. When you lose one sweetheart, you can't just go out and get another to replace her.” 36 likes
“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. There was another silence. I opened my eyes and looked at Alice - and knew at once that I shouldn’t have spoken; that I should have been as dumb and as cunning with her as with the rest of them. There was a look on her face - it was not ambiguous at all now - a look of mingled shock, and nervousness, and embarrassment or shame. I had said too much. I felt as if my admiration for Kitty Butler had lit a beacon inside me, and opening my unguarded mouth had sent a shaft of light into the darkened room, illuminating all. I had said too much - but it was that, or say nothing.” 25 likes
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