Tipping the Velvet Book Summary - Tipping the Velvet Book explained in key points

Tipping the Velvet summary

Sarah Waters

Brief summary

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters is a historical novel set in Victorian England. It follows the journey of Nan King, a young girl who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler and experiences a world of passion, betrayal, and self-discovery.

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    Tipping the Velvet
    Summary of key ideas

    Exploring Love and Identity

    In Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, we are introduced to Nan King, a young woman living in Victorian England. Nan works in her family's oyster restaurant and leads a quiet life until she meets Kitty Butler, a male impersonator performing at a local music hall. Nan is immediately captivated by Kitty's performance and the two women soon become friends. As their friendship deepens, Nan realizes that she is in love with Kitty.

    As their relationship blossoms, Nan leaves her family and moves in with Kitty in London. She becomes Kitty's dresser and the two women start performing together, with Kitty as the male lead and Nan as her female counterpart. Their act is a huge success, but their happiness is short-lived. Kitty, who is more interested in men, leaves Nan for a wealthy man, breaking Nan's heart.

    A Journey of Self-Discovery

    Devastated by the end of her relationship with Kitty, Nan is forced to re-evaluate her life. She takes up various jobs, including working as a prostitute and a cross-dressing male impersonator, to make ends meet. During this time, Nan explores her own sexuality and gender identity, and begins to understand the complexities of love and desire.

    Through her experiences, Nan becomes involved in the burgeoning feminist and socialist movements of the time. She meets and falls in love with Florence, a passionate social activist, and the two women move in together. Their relationship is marked by its equality and mutual respect, a stark contrast to Nan's previous experiences with Kitty.

    Challenging Gender Norms

    As Nan's journey continues, she becomes increasingly involved in the fight for women's rights. She participates in protests and demonstrations, and even spends time in prison for her activism. Throughout these experiences, Nan continues to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations, both in her personal life and in society at large.

    Despite the hardships she faces, Nan remains resilient and determined. She eventually finds success as a writer, using her own life experiences to shed light on the struggles of women and the LGBTQ+ community. In the end, Nan's journey is one of self-discovery, resilience, and the pursuit of personal and societal freedom.


    In Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters presents a vivid and compelling exploration of love, identity, and societal norms. Through Nan's experiences, we are confronted with the limitations and expectations placed on individuals based on their gender and sexual orientation. The novel challenges these norms, offering a powerful and thought-provoking commentary on the nature of love and the struggle for personal freedom.

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    What is Tipping the Velvet about?

    Tipping the Velvet is a historical fiction novel by Sarah Waters that explores themes of gender identity and sexual freedom in Victorian England. Set in the 1890s, the story follows Nancy Astley, a young woman who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and independence. Through vivid storytelling and rich historical detail, the book delves into the hidden world of queer relationships and the societal constraints of the time.

    Tipping the Velvet Review

    Tipping the Velvet (1998) by Sarah Waters is a captivating novel that takes readers on a journey of self-discovery and love in Victorian England. Here are three reasons why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its vivid descriptions and compelling characters, it immerses readers in the world of 19th-century London, bringing history to life.
    • The story explores themes of gender identity and sexuality, challenging societal norms and shedding light on experiences often marginalized or ignored.
    • Waters' nuanced portrayal of relationships and emotions makes the book deeply moving and thought-provoking, leaving a lasting impact on readers.

    Who should read Tipping the Velvet?

    • Readers who enjoy historical fiction with a focus on LGBTQ+ themes
    • Individuals interested in exploring the Victorian era and its underground subcultures
    • People who appreciate richly detailed and immersive storytelling

    About the Author

    Sarah Waters is a renowned British author known for her historical fiction novels. With a focus on LGBTQ+ themes, Waters has gained critical acclaim for her captivating storytelling and rich character development. Some of her other notable works include Fingersmith and The Night Watch. Waters' writing has been praised for its immersive portrayal of different time periods and its exploration of complex relationships.

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    Tipping the Velvet FAQs 

    What is the main message of Tipping the Velvet?

    The main message of Tipping the Velvet is a journey of self-discovery and the pursuit of personal freedom.

    How long does it take to read Tipping the Velvet?

    The reading time for Tipping the Velvet varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Tipping the Velvet a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Tipping the Velvet is a captivating novel that explores themes of love, identity, and freedom. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Tipping the Velvet?

    Tipping the Velvet is written by Sarah Waters.

    What to read after Tipping the Velvet?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Tipping the Velvet, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Why We Love by Helen Fisher
    • Loneliness by John Cacioppo and William Patrick
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