Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

A historical voyage through the queer underbelly of Victorian London

Book Review by Sian Dada | 15 Jul 2006
A historical voyage through the queer underbelly of Victorian London, Sarah Waters' debut novel follows the journey of Kentish oyster girl Nancy Astley as she leaves her hometown to follow the handsome drag king Kitty Butler, first to London and then onto the music hall stage. We follow Nan's journey as she moves through a secret life that sees her go from music hall phenomenon to gender-bending rent boy to kept plaything of a rich Sapphist, before finally finding a place she can call home. In her journey from innocence to experience, realising her desire for other women, the headstrong Nan has to deal with the rejection and loneliness that this brings. But 'Tipping the Velvet' is not only a lesbian novel - it is also a London novel, featuring a strong evocation of the 19th century city, from Soho alleyways to stately mansions, from the dressing rooms of music halls to the pubs frequented by East End toms. Waters' richly detailed and filmic description will draw you into a world that you never knew existed, filling in the gaps left by the history books in its portrayal of lesbian life. [Sian Dada]
Out now.