Literature / Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet is a 1998 novel written by Sarah Waters which was later adapted into a three-part serial for The BBC starring Rachael Stirling. Set in Victorian England, it tells the story of Nancy "Nan" Astley, an oyster girl from Whitstable who falls in love with a music hall male impersonator named Kitty Butler.


  • Adorkable: Ralph. especially when he walks in on Nan and Florence.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Gracie. Something's off with her, even if it's not clear what; she acts very young for her age, and has an odd fixation with certain colors.
    • Probably fair for the period, as 'feeble-minded' people were rarely classified more finely than that.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Diana Lethaby and her decadent friends.
  • Bifauxnen: Nan can easily pass for a pretty young man- so easily that her first proper costume as Rackity Jack had to be altered so she'd be less convincing.
  • Cast Full of Gay: A large portion of the characters are lesbian women.
  • Closet Key: Kitty, to Nan.
  • Dirty Communists: Florence and Ralph are aversions (also socialists instead of communists,) as they (especially Ralph) are easily the nicest people in the story.
  • Erotic Eating: "Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster?"
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Quite a few examples, most notably the title.
  • Happy Ending: But not the one you might have expected.
    • Or wanted, depending on your favoured couple.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The language is consistent with the time period the story is set in.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Nan, although she technically works as a rent boy.
  • Informed Attribute: In the TV adaptation, Nan's ability to disguise herself as a boy.
  • Iris Out: In the TV version, obviously. Usually on Nan, since she's the narrator.
  • Last Girl Wins: Florence; Nan actually met her in the middle of the story and then forgot about her when Diana came along, but she didn't get to know her until afterward.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Kitty may dress up as a boy for the stage, but is conventionally feminine outside the theater. Ms. Lethaby and Zena could also qualify. Nan, however, gets more butch as the story goes on.
  • Recursive Crossdressing: Again, this effect was purposely utilized for Nan's stage persona.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Nan and Flo initially. This being a lesbian story, it ultimately ends up being more than just "friendship."
  • Time Passes Montage: Used in the BBC adaptation.
  • True Companions: Nan eventually creates a family for herself made up of Florence, Ralph, and Cyril. There's even a scene where the adult members speculate as to who would be in their personal heavens with them and each one lists all the others.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Nan finds that she's more comfortable in men's clothing even when offstage.

Alternative Title(s): Tipping The Velvet