Virago Book Club: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

7th Nov 2012

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters VMC Edition

And of all her books, she’s perhaps best known for her 1998 début, Tipping the Velvet, which tells the story of Nan Astley and Kitty Butler.

Lauded by The New York Times and Library Journal on its release, it went on to win both a Betty Trask and Lamda Literary Award, and has been adapted for TV by the BBC.

Renowned for its lush descriptions of Victorian London, the heyday of music halls and lesbian sex acts (the title is a Victorian term for cunnilingus), the multi-layered historical novel has it all; from fascinating, complex characters to issues including gender, sexuality and class.

Recently reissued by Virago as part of their series of Coming of Age Classics, the Virago Modern Classic edition is a beautiful new hardback with a gorgeous cover featuring an artistic impression of those infamous Whistable oysters.

When asked how she felt about Tipping the Velvet becoming a Virago Modern Classic title, Sarah Waters said:

‘As a long-time fan of Virago Modern Classics (I bought my first, aged eighteen, in 1985, and have been acquiring them steadily ever since) I was extremely excited when my own novel Tipping the Velvet was added to the list. And in such a sumptuous edition! It’s a terrific honour, and I’m thrilled.’

Publisher of Virago Lennie Goodings is equally enthusiastically, telling us:

‘To be the publisher of Sarah Waters is one of things I am most proud to say. Not only is she an inventive, exciting intelligent writer – she is also a funny lovely person and great fun to work with. When we came up with the idea of including some of our contemporary writers in our Virago Modern Classics Coming of Age hardback series, she was the first on our list.

Tipping the Velvet is Sarah’s first book. It’s touching and clever and bold. Its ficitonalising of lesbian history makes it an important book too. It is a book that brings joy to me just thinking about it again. And we are so lucky to have it on the Virago list: it is deservedly a Classic as is its marvellous author.’

And if you need an excuse to invest, then how about this? Tipping the Velvet is the latest Virago Book Club choice, and will be being discussed by them throughout November.

We can’t wait to get involved, and we’re very excited about all the shenanigans we know Virago have planned.

If you want in on the action too, make sure you follow Virago on Twitter, Facebook, and keep an eye on their forum, where they’ll be talking Tipping the Velvet in much more detail.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Tipping the Velvet yet, you’re in luck: we’ve got ten copies to give away! If you want one, all you need to do is comment on this post telling us so by Sunday 11th November. We’ll pick ten winners at random soon afterwards and get in touch to get your copy on its way.

If you already and know and love Tipping the Velvet, tell us: what are you favourite moments from the book? When did you first read it and what was your reaction?

Jane Bradley


  • Fictavia says:

    Exciting! I’ve only seen the adaptation, and the book’s been on my to-read list for ages – perfect timing I think!!

  • janetwro says:

    I love Sarah Waters. The Little Stranger was so good, and Fingersmith may have been even better. I’ve been meaning to read Tipping the Velvet, and just haven’t yet. This is just the nudge I need to do it.

  • EC says:

    Read and loved all of Waters’ work except this – never got round to it! Would love a copy. And that cover art is sensational.

  • Kate Kerrow says:

    How exciting – an incredible book. Excited to follow the discussion.

  • Hannah C says:

    Remember watching the adaptation years ago, have always wanted to read. Would love a copy!

  • Joellen Hurst says:

    This book combines three of my favorite things, London, reading and history.
    Perfect book for me!

  • Christine Ellis says:

    I remember seeing the tv adaptation accidentally when I was quite a bit younger and being equally shocked and intrigued by it. Perhaps even the first indications of my sexuality. Now in my twenties I would love to visit the original story. Definitely wouldn’t say no to a copy!

  • headinbook says:

    Another one who’s missed out on Tipping the Velvet thus far – really enjoyed The Little Stranger and Fingersmith. Proper get-lost-in-the-story books, perfect reading for winter nights. I would love a copy, pretty please…

  • Penny Dreadful Vintage says:

    It is shameful to say, but I still have never read it. So many books, so little time. I did love The Night Watch, and I love reading about London through the ages, so I know it is a story I will enjoy 🙂

  • Angela E Smith says:

    The TV series was marvelous, so I can only imagine the book must be spectacular! Would love to win a copy of this beautiful, hardcover edition… Fingers crossed, can’t wait to read it!

  • karmaperle says:

    Love all Sarah Waters books but not read this yet. Would love a copy please 🙂

  • M says:

    I hadn’t heard of your Coming Of Age Classics series, so I’m going to check that out. I haven’t read Tipping the Velvet (or any Sarah Waters) but I have seen the adaptation. I’d love to win a book copy please.

  • Danni says:

    Such an awesome book… ‘You exquisite little tart!’ …really fantastic its become a Virago modern classic, I would love one of these reissued copies.

  • Like Georgia O’keefes flowers the cover has hidden depths.

  • Jane Smith says:

    I’d love a copy of Tipping The Velvet: I still haven’t read it and that new jacket design is gorgeous. Pick me, please!

  • Ro Saul says:

    I loved this book and all of Sarah Waters’ – especially ‘The Night Watch’ which may be one of the best books of the past decade. I want a beautifully bound copy of ‘Tipping the Velvet’ to give to my 20 year old daughter who has not read any Sarah Waters yet. I think it would be a magnificent present.

  • Sam says:

    Sarah Waters is a consummate storyteller; I love all of her books, and really enjoy the sprightly verve of TTV, her debut. Looking forward to more in the Coming of Age series, too.

  • Sophie says:

    My friends and sister have raved about this novel to me and I would love the opportunity to dig into it.

  • Sam says:

    PS I would REALLY love a copy!

  • Ros says:

    I’d love a copy! The Nightwatch and The Fingersmith are two of my favourite books and I can’t believe I’ve not read Tipping the Velvet.

  • Eve says:

    I’d love a copy!

  • Fanny says:

    Would <3 a copy! Have always wanted to read it, and this would be the perfect excuse 🙂

  • Rachel says:

    Tipping The Velvet is such a beautiful, descriptive book. I always rip through Sarah Waters books very, very quickly and then find myself wishing there was still more.

  • June Seghni says:

    I loved the television adaptation but have never read this..what a great prize..

  • Chris Wolak says:

    LOVE this novel! It’s one of my all-time favorites and I’ve read it about 3 times already. I have a copy of the book and the TV series, so don’t need to be entered to win. Just wanted to say hi and that I’m excited to follow the conversation!

  • Sarah Bell says:

    Hope I’m not too late to enter this. I lost my copy in a housemove a few years ago and would love to win, particularly with such an evocative cover design.
    Fingers crossed.

  • I hope I´m not too late! I just came across this and basically I am obsessed with 19th century so even if I don´t win, this book is already on my must-read list. I would be curious about the content since Victorian novels (written in Victorian era) tend to be a bit dry sometimes, you know, the thrill is missing but this looks like the opposite. I especially like the fact that the novel deals with topics that went sort of unmentioned in popular literature of that time. x

  • Rae-Zor Lite says:

    I first read Tipping the Velvet after seeing the TV adaptation, and I went on to read all of Sarah Waters’ books. I love how she creates such a convincing atmosphere and describes the smallest details. I almost ended up with a glove fetish after reading this and even several years later I can picture Nan’s hands very vividly. Also a fan of the allegories throughout such as eating an oyster (and this even came across when brilliantly interpreted for TV!)

  • Penny Goring says:

    Tipping the Velvet is one of my favourite books. I want to read it again but I’ve lost my copy.