50 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1998

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Character Analysis

Nancy Astley (Nan King)

Nancy Astley, who takes on the name Nan King in London, is the protagonist and narrator of Tipping the Velvet. She is the daughter of fishmongers in Whitstable, a seaside village in Kent near Canterbury. Nan has a brother, Davy, and a sister, Alice. Together with her siblings and parents, Nan works at the oyster parlor they own. Described at various points throughout the novel as either androgynous or boyish, Nan begins to wear men’s clothing and finds her authentic self within this clothing. The first time she dresses for a possible act with Kitty Butler, Kitty declares that “[s]he looks like a boy” (118), which pleases Nan. Entranced by the theater and by Kitty’s original act at the Palace in Canterbury, Nan soon loses interest in Whitstable and begins acting with Kitty in London. Her act with Kitty, during which they both appear as male impersonators, makes them both famous.

Nan is a dynamic character, with complex development and setbacks. The changes in Nan are reflected in her relationships with Kitty, Diana, and Florence. Nan and Kitty become lovers in the first part of the novel, and Nan loses interest in returning to Whitstable or seeing her parents; Alice’s reaction to her coming out pushes Nan away from her working-class roots.

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