We are very pleased to be discussing Tipping the Velvet, our latest Virago Book Club choice. A book that has delighted and shocked in equal measure since its publication in 1998, Tipping the Velvet launched Sarah Waters’ writing career and marked the discovery of a very serious talent. We recently reissued Tipping the Velvet as a beautiful Virago Modern Classic hardback, as part of our 'Coming of Age' series.
Matt Thorne called Sarah Waters ‘one of the best storytellers alive today’ and surely few would disagree.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing this wonderful Victorian novel, and will run a competition to win copies of the gorgeous new hardback VMC edition as well as the DVD of Andrew Davies’ BBC adaptation. Among other things, there will be fun over on Twitter as we wonder what your Victorian stage name might be. And why not visit For Books’ Sake, who’ll be discussing the book alongside us, as well as holding a competition to win a copy of our gorgeous new paperback edition.
And this is why Virago loves this book:
Carleen Peters, Senior Marketing Executive
I’ll be honest – I was a little worried when Tipping the Velvet was picked for this month’s book club. I’m a bit of a contemporary fiction diehard, so post-university, the closest I generally come to reading anything vaguely historical is dipping into Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald or Kerouac.
So I was really pleasantly surprised to find that it was the little historical flourishes that I liked most about Sarah Waters’ debut novel. From musical hall mashers to the Victorian lesbian scene and all the streets, houses and politics of 1890’s London in-between, I LOVED delving deep into the worlds that Waters described.
The descriptions of the musical hall costumes and songs and the effect they had on audiences had me wishing I was there, drawing parallels between the musical hall scene of yore and the modern burlesque revival (and yes, okay, dreaming about strolling the streets in a little Victorian dandy outfit of my own!). I loved the use of idiom and Waters’ capacity for double entendre (I can’t believe that the names Nancy and Kitty are a coincidence) and also enjoyed the insight into the gay Victorian scene – my knowledge of which before Tipping relating mostly to Oscar Wilde.
Victoria Pepe, Junior Commissioning Editor
I started reading Tipping the Velvet about a week after I began working for Virago in 2007. It was the one book that so many of my new colleagues pressed upon me to read and so I started reading straight away and became completely hooked. I finished the book in about a day and quickly moved on to all of Sarah’s other novels. I loved them all, and still recommend them to everyone I know. They’re all brilliant. But Tipping the Velvet always has a special place in my heart. It’s funny, it’s bawdy, it’s gripping, it trips across London and delights in making you laugh, gasp and cry and I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.
Hollie Smyth, Marketing Executive
What I love about Tipping the Velvet is the glorious way in which Sarah Waters brings to life a whole new side to Victorian London from the jolly, colourful music halls brimming with fantastic characters to the intriguing worlds of the gay and lesbian scenes that all had to exist shrouded in secrecy. The language is full of fabulous phrases (swell, tom, masher). It’s mischievous, funny, touching and highly entertaining. Although the theatrical phase of Nan King’s life was my favourite, every new stage to her story was wonderfully executed and fabulously more explicit than the last. Sarah has an uncanny ability to draw the reader completely into her world, close enough that you can smell and hear Victorian London all around you. A rare treat indeed.
Naomi Doerge, Publicity Assistant
What I love so much about Tipping the Velvet is the complexity and many nuances of Sarah’s characters and their relationships with one another. Nan may progress from a shy and withdrawn oyster girl to a bawdy and daring Londoner but despite her many changes, I love that even at the end of the novel, there is always a shade of the early vulnerability and romanticism to her which so endeared the reader from the start. I think that there are no ‘heroines’ or ‘villains’ in Tipping, each character is as flawed as the last and each relationship in the novel is ultimately shaped by the character’s previous one. I love Tipping for its colourful atmosphere and the drama and decadence of its scenes, but the way in which each character is so carefully layered, with hidden depths and sometimes shocking actions, is what draws me so deeply into its pages.
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