Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

tipping the velvet

Born in Whitstable, England in the late 19th century, Nancy Astley has known little more than the drudgery of working in her family’s oyster house — that is, until she sees Kitty Butler perform on a Canterbury stage.  Captivated by Kitty’s delicate face, powerful voice, and masculine costumes, Nan seeks out her affection and the chance to leave the coast for the bustling city of London.  But once in London, Nan’s fortune ebbs and flows from fame and fortune to heartbreak and hardship, leaving her to fend for herself and slowly construct her own identity.  Rich in detail and written with Waters’s distinctive Victorian flair, Tipping the Velvet is a charming, immersive coming-of-age story.

“The trip from Bethnal Green to Cable Street did indeed take us through some of the roughest, poorest, squalidest districts in the city, and could never, ordinarily, be very cheerful.  I knew the route, for I had walked it often with Florence: I know which courts were grimmest, which factories sweated their workers hardest, which tenements housed the saddest and most hopeless families.  But we were out that night together — as Florence herself had admitted — for pleasure’s sake; and though it might seem strange to say it, our journey was indeed a pleasant one, and seemed to take us over a rather different landscape to the one we normally trod.  We passed gin-palaces and penny-gaffs, coffee-shops and public-houses: they were not the grim and dreary places that they sometimes were, tonight, but luminous with warmth and light and colour, thick with laughter and shouts, and with the reeking odours of beer and soup and gravy.”

Sarah Waters is the author of six novels: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity, The Night Watch, The Paying Guests, and The Little Stranger.  Born in Wales, she currently lives in London.

Published:  1998
Length:  472 pages
Set in:  London, England, United Kingdom



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