Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tipping the Velvet” as Want to Read:
Tipping the Velvet
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Tipping the Velvet

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  56,775 ratings  ·  2,712 reviews
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 he
...more
Paperback, 472 pages
Published May 1st 2000 by Riverhead Books (first published February 5th 1998)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Tipping the Velvet, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Arukiyomi Well, that depends on how you define "historical." This is emphatically not a historical description of lesbian life in Victorian Britain. In fact, I …moreWell, that depends on how you define "historical." This is emphatically not a historical description of lesbian life in Victorian Britain. In fact, I think it's probably embellished that a great deal. It's very much focussed on sexual longing and its physical expression. Whatever romance there is (and there's precious little with many of the relationships Nancy ends up having) is definitely secondary to sex.(less)
Spencer Sharpe are you still working on this? Ivan E Coyote has some good novels. "Freak Boy" by Kristin Elizabeth Clark features a genderqueer main character & seve…moreare you still working on this? Ivan E Coyote has some good novels. "Freak Boy" by Kristin Elizabeth Clark features a genderqueer main character & several trans secondary characters; "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" is mostly about a cis lesbian, but there is a two-spirit character pretty central to the plot; "The Creamsickle" by Rhiannon Argo features gender non conforming and trans people. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  56,775 ratings  ·  2,712 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of Tipping the Velvet
La Petite Américaine
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kicked_ass
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
Maureen
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Nancy Astley was born in Whitstable, Kent in the late nineteenth century. She's from an ordinary, hard working family, and from a very young age she helped in her parents fish restaurant shucking oysters until her fingers were red raw with the icy cold water, used to keep the oysters fresh, but it was all she knew and she was happy with her life. She was loved by her parents and siblings alike, but when she entered her teens, the bright lights of a nearby music hall began to call to her. She lov ...more
Matt
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
...more
Fabian
Sep 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Call this the lesbian version of "Maurice."

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

This took considerable research, I'm sure, and how cool is it to get this particular point of view?! The biggest mistake, however, was to give the narrative the first-person touch: making Nan King into a
...more
Tatiana
Apr 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people curious about this sort of thing
Recommended to Tatiana by: 1001 Must Read list
Shelves: historical, 2010, 1001
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
Robin
Oh, gag! I have SO many problems with this book. What the hell was this supposed to be, anyway? I will go through the possibilities:

Historical Fiction
Set in the late 1800's, in stuffy Victorian England... we meet Nancy, a young lady who falls fast and hard for another young woman performing in a theatre. Yadda, yadda, yadda, they're a couple. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy is shocked that her sister doesn't accept this. Yadda, yadda, yadda, Nancy meets and beds pretty much every female that subs
...more
Amanda
Dec 14, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Kelly
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Stacia (the 2010 club)
Oct 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Lotte
4.5/5. That's it then. I've read everything Sarah Waters has published so far. And I just realised that the order in which I read her books goes from pretty tame/not much sexual content at all (The Little Stranger, my first Sarah Waters novel, and Affinity, my second) to medium amounts of sexual content (The Paying Guests, Fingersmith and The Night Watch, in that order) to quite a bit of sexual content indeed with Tipping the Velvet as my last one. (There's a dildo that plays, uhm, a prominent r ...more
Katie Lumsden
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars
I absolutely adored this, even more than Fingersmith. So well written, so engaging and moving. I love the exploration of Victorian society, especially of the Victorian lesbian underworld. At its heart, this is just a brilliant coming of age story (with a fair bit of romance thrown in).
Alex
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of oysters and pants
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
...more
Sara
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I first read this novel in 2011, and before that I watched the BBC programme featuring Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes, and I remember being as captivated by Kitty as Nan was. So when I saw this as an ARC I knew I wanted to dip back into this unique tale of love in Victorian Britain.

Kitty was still as captivating and self centred as I remembered, and I still loved her for it. She knows Nan is utter devoted and besotted and plays
...more
Jem
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 ...more
Paul Bryant
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
This is Sarah Waters’ first novel and is a very straight(ha)forward tale of the life of Nancy Astley from age 18 to age 26 as she makes her lesbian progress from Whitstable, Kent to Bethnal Green, London, from oyster girl to music hall star to toy boy (ha) and beyond. I see other reviews have duffed up Tipping the Velvet on account of it’s not got the pyrotechnic plot of Fingersmith or The Paying Guests. This is like complaining that A Hard Day’s Night is rubbish because it is not anything like ...more
Trudie
Grrrr, that ending ! ... anyway.

Tipping the Velvet is the fourth Sarah Waters book I have read. Fingersmith and the The Paying Guests being ones I have particularly enjoyed. This book, as to be expected in a first novel does have some creaky bits, however Waters passion for research is on full display. Packed full of details on dance halls, lesbian subcultures, socialism, class and other more salacious details about life on the streets of Victorian London. As titillating as it sets out to
...more
Vanessa
BookRiot 2018 Read Harder Challenge #20: A book with a cover you hate
(Why does my cover have stripper poles? What does this even have to do with the story? Why is it the ONE time everyone at work wanted to know what I was reading, it was when I was carrying this around?)

In the closing decade of the 19th century, a young woman named Nancy, who until then had lead a happy but unexceptional life working at her family's seafood restaurant in Kent, goes to the theatre one night, sees a female singer
...more
Gabrielle
First off, I would like to thank Sarah Waters for expanding my vocabulary. I can now dirty talk just like a 1890 White Chapel harlot and I love it! I learned new expressions for cunnilingus and clitoris with this book, and God knows you can’t have too many words to refer to those things. Moving on to the actual story!

I loved just about everything in “Tipping the Velvet”. This is the bildungsroman Dickens would have written if he 1) hadn’t been paid by the page and had 2) not been a middle-class
...more
Ria
''I had come to Quilter Street to be ordinary; now I was more of a torn than ever.''

gif

I don't know if I wanna rate this 4 or 5 stars because the start was so fucking slow and a bit boring but FUCK after like chapter 3-4 I couldn't put it down. I spent all day reading this and now I have a headache.
People say it reminds them of Charles Dickens. Dickens doesn't interest me, meaning I haven’t read his work, so I can't comment on that.

''You smell.......Not at all like a herring, But perhaps, m
...more
Bonnie
Oct 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Viv JM
Sarah Waters is a great storyteller, and she infuses her books with a marvellous sense of time and place, but this book just didn't really hit the spot for me. The main character just didn't seem terribly believable - the transformation from (view spoiler). I was expecting something a bit racy but found the erotic parts ...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
Mel
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of historical and/or lesbian fiction
Recommended to Mel by: Alexis Hall
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
...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
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
Bill
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I've been duped...

Last year, approaching Summer, I saw a tweet from Stephen King recommending summer reads.
One of the suggestions was "anything by Sarah Waters", and that led to comments such as "ingenious storytelling". Well, that hooked me, and shortly after I read Fingersmith. Yes, I was in full agreement: ingenious storytelling, indeed.

So fast forward a year later, Tipping the Velvet is on my reading list, and I'm in a severe reading slump.

Now, I know that Waters' novels have a lesbian aspe
...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
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
...more
Ygraine
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jason
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
A Victorian English "Tom" has some tawdry adventures throughout London.

First and foremost a romance, our main character, Nancy Astley (sometimes Nan or Nance), goes through infatuation, lust, passion, disillusionment, and eventually the discovery of something deeper. Like any great romance, there is an arc filled with both exalted happiness and the depths of doubt and heartache. This is sweet and Romantic, it is also sometimes a little bit of a bodice ripper I suppose, but absolutely has the el
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Reading Women: 20) A historical fiction book 87 675 Nov 05, 2019 05:44PM  
Reading 1001: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters 4 19 Dec 09, 2018 04:59AM  
looking for recommendations 2 17 Nov 10, 2018 04:56PM  
TIPPING THE VELVET - Discussion #4 3 19 Mar 20, 2018 03:15PM  
tc Reads: TIPPING THE VELVET - Final Discussion 1 5 Feb 20, 2018 03:21PM  
tc Reads: TIPPING THE VELVET - Discussion #4 1 2 Feb 20, 2018 03:02PM  
tc Reads: TIPPING THE VELVET - Discussion #3 1 4 Feb 06, 2018 12:00PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Price of Salt
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
  • Annie on My Mind
  • Rubyfruit Jungle
  • The Well of Loneliness
  • Stone Butch Blues
  • Pages for You
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post
  • Curious Wine
  • Keeping You a Secret
  • Ash
  • Desert of the Heart
  • Everything Leads to You
  • Patience & Sarah
  • Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943
  • Written on the Body
  • If I Was Your Girl
  • The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
See similar books…
6,342 followers
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

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
50 likes · 12 comments
“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.” 68 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.” 57 likes
More quotes…