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“Journeying against the current”: a carnivalesque theatrical apprenticeship in Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet

Stefania Ciocia

Sarah Waters’s first novel, Tipping the Velvet (1998), is the story of how Nancy Astley (Nan King) comes to discover and affirm her social and sexual identity in late Victorian culture. At a first glance, these would appear to be the ingredients of a classic Bildungsroman, a novel of formation which aims to record the main character’s psychological growth, sentimental maturation and integration within society. Yet Tipping the Velvet is also heavily indebted to the tradition of the picaresque, a subversive genre where ultimately the ‘third person’ status of the protagonist exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy of his/her culture. In Tipping the Velvet this view of society from the outside, therefore from a less implicated and more critical perspective, is brought about by the characterisation of Nancy Astley as a figure in perpetual motion and by the setting of her journey of self-discovery on the stage of the sprawling Victorian metropolis. Throughout the narrative, Nancy interacts with different social classes and experiments with dramatically different life styles, never quite signalling her wholehearted allegiance to any one of these experiences. What is more, her formation is inscribed within a theatrical sphere: in this way, Nancy’s development is paradoxically caught up in a blurred opposition between acting and living and an ongoing play between appearance and reality, deceitful surfaces and hidden depths.

London plays a crucial role in this hybrid narrative of complicity and critique of Victorian society: in fact, negotiating the multi-faceted, histrionic reality of the London of the gay Nineties is the key to the successful progress of Nancy’s private journey; in particular, Nancy’s development is closely connected to her gaining the ability to master the city as a stage. Nancy’s evolution towards self-discovery and fulfilment runs parallel to her physical and metaphorical “journey against the current” towards and within the metropolis: from Whitstable to London and from the glittering West End theatres to the East End slums. Having left the backstage (her life as an oyster girl in Whitstable), Nancy adopts in turn the roles of spectator (her voyeuristic scrutiny of the London men), actor (as a male impersonator, both in the theatre as a “masher” and in the city streets as a rent boy) and, in the final chapters of the novel, director (her part in the Socialist Demonstration in Victoria Park). It is only after this final role, which symbolically takes her to the heart of London, that Nancy can successfully terminate her ‘theatrical’ career, repudiate her stage name and reconcile herself with a newfound authentic sense of personal identity, involving a radically different attitude to the urban space.

The change in Nancy’s role as a performer and in her interaction with the city develops towards an unorthodox, carnivalesque theatrical model, a democratic and inclusive form of spectacle, thriving on the blurring of the thin line that separates art from life: “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people” (Bakhtin 1965, 7). A close scrutiny of the setting in Tipping the Velvet shows how throughout the narrative the theatrical space evolves, or rather breaks down, from the structured form and enclosed location of the Palace in Canterbury and the West End playhouses (or even the privacy of Diana Lethaby’s world) to the improvised, all-encompassing, open-air pageantry of life on the streets of London: the novel’s action gradually moves from the theatre as such, where performers and audience are neatly differentiated, occupying well-marked and separate places, to the boundless stage of the square and the city streets, where the gap between actors and spectators is erased by a universal and subversive participation to the show. In its configuration of Nancy’s evolution as a theatrical apprenticeship, Tipping the Velvet manages to hover between two genres, seemingly charting the individual’s acquisition of his/her rightful place within society and his/her progress towards self-knowledge (as in a classic Bildungsroman), while effectively retaining the subversive outsider perspective of the picaresque.

Waters’s choice of the theatrical scene, with its emphasis on the notions of performance and spectacle, also draws immediate attention to the discrepancy between men’s and women’s positions in relation to the urban show. In telling Nancy’s story as a theatrical apprenticeship, Sarah Waters foregrounds the question of the spaces and roles effectively available to women in the Victorian city, where the female choice between the position of spectator or object of the male gaze is not exclusively a matter of free will. Seen in this light, the true nature of Nancy’s social commitment which, by the end of the novel, seems to have replaced her theatrical vocation, is called into question: in the story of Nancy’s histrionic metamorphosis from male impersonator to street walker and, later on, social worker — that is, the two roles that made the urban space available to Victorian women — Waters manages to explore the complex scene of gender and class politics at the end of the nineteenth century.

Whether the “journey against the current” brings about a real evolution in Nancy’s character or whether it is merely the mark of the picara’s erratic and perpetual motion, one thing is unarguable: it appears to progress along the lines of a theatrical apprenticeship, in which, as I have already mentioned, London works as a stage. The view of London, and the metropolis in general, as an acting board and a visual show was rather common in the early nineteenth century: “We see in the 1820s a society that regarded the metropolis as a stage on which to perform and witness its own civility, grandeur, and ebullience. The image of theatre is crucial to urban representation in the early nineteenth century, for it suggests not only entertainment and performance but also a relationship of distance and tentativeness between spectator and the action on the stage. The urban spectator of this period, whether writer or imagined subject, experienced the sights and people of the streets as passing shows or as monuments to be glimpsed briefly or from afar. This distance helped to obscure and control all that was seen, however arresting or unsettling, and it helped, too, to ensure that whatever did unsettle the spectator would not be understood as a symptom of some larger social disturbance.” (Epstein Nord, 20). As Epstein Nord remarks, the perception of London as a stage does not imply an active, curious fruition of the metropolitan space, but it involves a feeling of detachment from the city: while seeing him/herself as an actor against a grand backdrop, the spectator looks, but is not required to delve beyond the mere surface of things. This disengaged, voyeuristic attitude towards the Victorian capital ensures that all kinds of troubling social issues are virtually obscured from view, or simply ignored.

However popular, this theatrical appreciation of London is not shared by all its citizens and visitors: in the early nineteenth century, the role of urban spectator was only available to men, and not to women. Indeed, Epstein Nord opens her Walking the Victorian Streets with this peremptory remark: “In the literature of the nineteenth century city, [and, I would add, in the reality of the nineteenth century city] the figure of the observer — the rambler, the stroller, the spectator, the flaneur — is a man.” (Epstein Nord, 1). Unsurprisingly, the only exception to this rule, the one female figure who is granted unquestioned access to the streets and freedom of movement and observation in the city is the prostitute: already in the eighteenth century, the shambolic, larger-than-life, extraordinary story of a London prostitute provides the most famous female picaresque narrative in English literature, in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722). Of course, it is no coincidence that Defoe’s novel should have been often identified as an ideal precursor to Tipping the Velvet, which is deemed to constitute its contemporary, Sapphic reinvention.

Yet there is still an intrinsic, unsurpassable ambivalence in the female counterpart to the male city rambler, for the prostitute, even as she is allowed to fix her eyes on the urban environment, can never escape her position as the object of the male, and female, gaze: “For men as well as women, the prostitute was a central spectacle in a set of urban encounters and fantasies”. (Walcowitz, 21). Epstein Nord goes on to claim, particularly with regard to the male gaze, that the prostitute represents “at times a feature of the theatricality and high-spiritedness of city sprees, and at others the embodiment of transience, ephemerality and estrangement. As marker of the urban demimonde, she could represent both the liberating attractions and the victimised underclass of city life. The spectator-reveler regarded her as an emblem of pleasure and diversion, while the bohemian found in her not an object of pity but a reflection of himself” (Epstein Nord, 20). This means that in the early nineteenth century, when the perception of London as a stage was firmly grounded in the popular imagination, women were virtually cut out from enjoying the show: even prostitutes who, in view of their debased status, were granted a degree of freedom in roaming the city streets (after all, a common euphemism for prostitute is ‘street-walker’) were as much objects of the (predatory or not) male gaze as urban observers, in perfect accordance with the gender positions outlined by Laura Mulvey in her seminal essay on visual pleasure.

From the 1880s by contrast a new female figure makes its appearance on the streets of London: the charity worker and/or social investigator who can move freely and cast her gaze around the city, but who, unlike the urban spectator of the 1820s onwards, is not a casual, detached observer, but an active, committed and involved analyst (and a would-be problem-solver) of the metropolitan evils. Crucially, this role was open to women, as well as men, and it was eagerly seized by a great number of middle-class ladies who wanted to find a however temporary alternative to the constraints of bourgeois family life.[1]Paradoxically, the exclusive realm of female social investigation would often end up being an extension of the domestic sphere, limited to all-female interactions, albeit in a portion of society, the working class, which would have otherwise been out of bounds to ladies of a genteel extraction. In other words, Victorian women’s foray into the public field of social service was accompanied by the necessity to come to terms, either in conforming or in challenging, the existence of definite models of male and female behaviour, and of different modes of actions and spheres of influence pertaining to the two sexes. In their attempt to make a claim for the recognition of their professionalism, Victorian charity workers often felt the need to contain and/or mask what was usually perceived as a natural female inquisitiveness and a maternalistic, sympathetic approach to the needy with the adoption of a more rational and scientific, therefore serious and self-legitimising, attitude to “the social problem”. Of course, the appraisal of the larger picture, with a view to a clinical explication and eradication of poverty, would come at the expense of a more immediate, personal relationship with the recipient of one’s charitable efforts: this in turn might be seen to constitute, on women’s part, a deliberate adoption of a male posture and a rejection of those attributes traditionally ascribed to the nurturing, selfless and ultimately amateurish mother figure.[2] (Arguably, the analytic, professional approach to philanthropy also allowed the distance between upper class benefactor and lower class beneficiary to be preserved, fundamentally safeguarding the status quo; on the other hand, it promoted the development of a class consciousness as shown by the wider political engagement of figures such as Eleanor Marx and Beatrice Webb).

By the end of the nineteenth century, the streets of London had become accessible to women, in their role of charity workers, with a degree of freedom that previously had only been unquestionably granted to prostitutes. At a first glance, it would appear that Nancy’s development in Tipping the Velvet mirrors exactly the change of attitude between the figure of the detached urban spectator of the 1820s and the committed social investigator of the 1880s. In a matter of a few years, Nancy accomplishes the kind of transformation that society at large went through between the 1820s and the 1880s, particularly in relation to how the urban reality was viewed and perceived: from the curious, solitary admiration of the metropolis as a show to a more interactive outlook on the city as an object of study and an arena for collective political activity.[3] The former stance is fundamentally disinterested in anything other than the aesthetic sphere; the latter, by contrast, implies the development of a social conscience and an ethical participation to life in the city.

The change in Nancy’s way to respond to London, however, is essentially brought about by the very theatrical attitude it begins with. Unsurprisingly, it is also confined to the realm of drama and histrionics, rather than reflect Nancy’s development of a genuine interest in a scientific approach to the city or a sincere commitment to social work and the Victorian notion of philanthropy. At the beginning of the book Nancy is undoubtedly characterised as a spectator; even after her obsessive visits to the Palace in Canterbury to see Kitty perform, Nancy continues to behave as a passive observer, as is most noticeable in her reaction to the news that she will accompany Kitty to the capital. From provincial Kent, London is imagined as a marvellous spectacle, and Nancy cannot but anticipate looking at the city as an astonished tourist; thus, her initial train journey from Whitstable to London is described as full of expectations and excitement, while completely devoid of any melancholy and regret for what is left behind: “My family would have thought me cruel, I know, to see me laugh while they were sad at home without me … And soon, too, I had London to gaze at and marvel over. … There was much, of course, to look at. Mr Bliss [Kitty’s agent] had suggested we take in the sights a little before we headed for Brixton, so now we rolled into Trafalgar Square — towards Nelson on his pillar, and the fountains, and the lovely, bone-coloured front of the National Gallery, and the view down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament.” (Waters, 63-4). What is more, Nancy’s first task upon her arrival in London as Kitty Butler’s dresser is rather extraordinary, as Walter Bliss is only too aware when he issues his peculiar injunction: “‘Now,’ Mr Bliss was saying, ‘I am going to ask you to do something which, if I were any other kind of gentleman than a theatrical agent, I should be quite ashamed to. I am going to ask you to go about the city — and you must assist her, Miss Astley,’ he added when he saw me looking — ‘you must both of you go about the city and study the men! … ‘Scrutinize ’em'”. (Waters, 83, italics in the text). At this point, the adoption of a voyeuristic attitude towards London and its inhabitants has become not merely a possible but a necessary activity. Of course, the observation of the city and its characters is what eventually enables Nancy to transcend her passive role and turn from a spectator into an actor: having been part of the music hall audience and having “scrutinized the men”, at the end of the first part of the novel Nancy finally gets onto the stage in a double act with Kitty.

The second part of the novel deals with Nancy’s cataclysmic decline (following her separation from Kitty) from music hall artist to rent boy to kept woman (a role, this last one, which is configured as a combination of her previous two). From the stage where, paradoxically, Nancy’s transgression as a masher is only skin-deep (she cross-dresses in order to perform, but her real sexual identity as a lesbian must be disguised), Nancy finds herself into the streets where dressing up as a man is the only way to go unnoticed, to be the subject who gazes rather than the object of that gaze: “I thought what a cruel joke it was that I, who had swaggered so many times in a gentleman’s suit across the stages of London, should now be afraid to walk upon its streets, because of my girlishness! If only I were a boy, I thought wretchedly. If only I were really a boy…” (Waters, 191). From the bitter irony of this realisation it is a small step, indeed less than a page, to the inevitable solution: “With my hair trimmed, I thought, and a pair of proper boy’s shoes upon my feet, anyone — even Kitty herself! — might meet me on the streets of London, and never know me for a girl, at all” (Waters, 192).

Still broken hearted after Kitty’s betrayal, Nancy nevertheless truly relishes the freedom to walk through the streets of London once again: yet, in this case too, just as it had happened previously on the stage, her real sexual identity is hidden behind her performance as a boy, an act which keeps on attracting people’s admiration, even as it deceives them: “to walk as a boy, as a handsome boy in a well-sewn suit, whom the people stared after only to envy, never to mock — well, it had a brittle kind of glamour to it, that was all I knew, just then, of satisfaction.” (Waters, 195). The objectifying, threatening male gaze directed at a vulnerable girl has been neutralised, leaving room to the obvious narcissistic pleasure of the actor, the undetected male impersonator: so successful is Nancy’s disguise as a swell, a young man-about-town, that, on a fateful evening, it propels her into her new career as a rent boy. Once taken on, however, the masquerade is difficult to be shed: in fact it forms great part of Nancy’s appeal to her second lover, the rich and domineering Diana Lethaby who, in virtue of the greater power and freedom attached to her privileged social status, can find ways of expressing her homosexuality without fear of incurring into public censure. Nancy’s situation is different because, if semi-clandestine like Diana’s, it remains ultimately devoid of any real agency: even as a kept woman in Felicity Place, Diana’s mansion and Sapphic household, where Nancy’s real sexual orientation is allowed to come out in the open, Nancy continues to perform. There is always an element of theatricality in what Nancy does, even if this time she is acting for a select, knowing audience: if with Kitty Nancy was part of an act (but could not really be herself off stage), with Diana she is little more than a commodity, a peacock strutting in a golden cage for her mistress’s pleasure, performing in a variety of amazing costumes for a restricted, privileged, semi-clandestine circle of aristocratic lesbians. Her sexual orientation is clear, but she is still wearing a different kind of mask.

It is in the third part of the novel, after the failure of her ‘relationship’ with Diana, that Nancy appears to turn her back on her past as a spectator and a performer in order to move into the more serious and substantial arena of the fight for social rights. The awakening of Nancy’s social conscience, Nancy’s social redemption, has its roots in her relationship with Florence, a dedicated socialist and charity worker. There follows that, in the narrative, Nancy’s journey towards self-awareness appears to be neatly symbolised by her involvement with Kitty first, when coming out is a private discovery, a matter of finally admitting the nature of one’s feelings to oneself, and Florence at the end, when Nancy at last seems to develop a sort of ‘class consciousness’ in relation to her homosexuality, when coming out eventually becomes a public, as well as a private, act. These two crucial moments in Nancy’s life envelop the truly debasing interlude with Diana in their midst: this pattern ostensibly conforms to the scheme of a traditional Bildungsroman, which charts the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist of a narrative. The structure and the plot of Tipping the Velvet do follow the formula of the classic adventure story with a happy ending and a good, solid moral at the end: the heroine sets out on a journey, has a number of challenging yet enriching experiences, must face the archetypal descent into a degraded status, overcome this debasement and finally reach her goal, i.e. (more often than not) the discovery of true love, which in Nancy’s case would be the union with her own princess charming. Nancy’s story contains even the magic, fairy tale sequence of three suitors in the number of her meaningful, long-term relationships with Kitty, Diana and Florence respectively — and of course it is the third suitor (and, at a first glance, the least appealing and glitzy of the three) who turns out to be the right one.

In spite of these similarities with conventional literary formulas, the adherence of Tipping the Velvet to this structure is only superficial. Nancy is no traditional fairy tale or Victorian heroine: she is a true flâneuse, a picara, and remains ultimately disengaged and “free-floating” throughout the novel. Thus Sarah Waters avoids the moralistic, over-sentimental conversion and integration within society of the bohemian character: Nancy remains at the margins, completely uninvolved, if not in the most superficial of ways, in Florence’s charity work. The role that she plays in the preparations for the Socialist Demonstration in Victoria Park is, again, one of the stages in her theatrical apprenticeship and nothing more: this time Nancy takes on the role of an acting mentor and as such she coaches (one might even say “directs”) Florence’s brother Ralph as a public orator for the rally. Rather significantly, the only occasion when Nancy makes a substantial, active contribution to the conference is when she steps into the limelight to rescue Ralph’s disastrous oratorical performance.

Nancy’s development therefore is only apparent, and her delivery of Ralph’s speech is successful not in as much as it is a heartfelt plea to the crowd, but because it is a competent oratorical performance, acted out by someone who knows how to beat stage fright and deal with hecklers, and how to grab and hold the audience’s attention: her apprenticeship is a theatrical apprenticeship (from spectator to actor and director), but one that results in the desire to abandon the traditional stage. Nancy’s part in the Socialist Demonstration (her prompting of Ralph) is her last performance: in the last chapter Nancy finally puts an end to her histrionics when, in rejecting Kitty’s renewed advances, she repudiates her stage name (‘Nan!’ [Kitty] cried. … ‘Don’t call me that,’ I said pettishly. ‘No one calls me that now. It ain’t my name, and never was.’, Waters, 467). It is at this point that Nancy instead can unreservedly declare her love for Florence, at the same time making clear that she is not going to impersonate / replace her dead lover, Lilian. This marks a significant change from Nancy’s previous delight in acting, both with Kitty and with Diana; the inanity of role-playing in fact had first occurred to Nancy upon the realisation that she had unwittingly been performing a pale imitation of Lilian, and that such an act might not be the way to secure Florence’s affection: “What a fool I’d been! … I had thrust myself upon [Florence] and her brother, and thought myself so sly and charming; I had thought that I was putting my mark upon their house, and making it mine. I had believed myself playing one kind of story, when all the time, I was only clumsily rehearsing what the fascinating Lilian had done so well and cleverly before me!” (Waters, 398).

Nancy’s horror at the thought that she might have pointlessly fallen back onto the impersonation of somebody else’s character does not mean that she abandons the world of appearances and performances to claim a role in the more concrete realm of politics: on the contrary, what changes is the kind of show that Nancy finds herself willing to take part in. At the end of the novel, Nancy implicitly expresses the desire for a sort of anonymity within the pageant in the streets of London, that is the wish to be part of a carnivalesque crowd which makes no difference between actors and spectators, where it does not matter whether one watches or is being watched. The last but one paragraph of the novel ends with Nancy’s revealing assertion: “I turned back to [Florence], took her hand in mine, crushed the daisy between our fingers and — careless of whether anybody watched or not — I leaned and kissed her.” (Waters, 472, my italics).

In other words, Nancy claims for herself what Bakhtin would call the ‘third-person’ or outsider status of the protagonist of a picaresque narrative (Bakhtin, 1981), a character who lives at the periphery of society and therefore can look onto its conventions and norms for what they are, unmasking their hidden ideological bias. By definition, the picaro/a cannot relinquish his/her outsider’s perspective, because in his/her perpetual motion he/she never really acts on the knowledge acquired and seeks to occupy a centre stage position, which of course accounts for the limitations in his/her moral and psychological development. Nancy’s progress follows precisely this outline: her journey is a circular one, with no real ethical or even emotional growth. Nancy literally steps off the stage, and her double refusal to make up with Kitty and impersonate Lilian in order to win Florence’s affection is symbolic of her rejection of histrionics altogether. And yet, ironically, the whole last chapter works exactly like a curtain call, where if we do not catch a final glimpse of all the main characters, we certainly get to see all of Nancy’s important lovers: Kitty, Diana, even the servant girl at Felicity Place, Zena. The atmosphere of this last chapter is definitely theatrical, but slightly tongue in cheek; the mood is that of a farewell to the stage (the conventional stage, that is), with the closing description of the rally at Victoria Park: “The afternoon sun cast long shadows over the bruised and trampled grass. From the speakers’ tent there came a muffled cheer, and a rising ripple of applause”. (Waters, 472). The characters take leave of the narrative with the final sound of applause in the background, while Nancy calls herself off traditional theatrical games in order to claim her place in the public square. In true Bakhtinian fashion and in tune with her picaresque spirit, Nancy’s lack of concern about observing and being observed levels off the stage: in the subversive, challenging, sceptical, desecrating spirit of carnival, the gap between actors and spectator is erased, and the applause envelops the former and the latter alike.

One of the most interesting and paradoxical corollaries of this conclusion is the disclosure of an element of performance and artistry even in the well-meaning world of Victorian philanthropy and political activism. We can trace a subtle criticism of Victorian charity work in the way in which Florence is ultimately not dissimilar from Nancy: just like Nancy’s passion for the music hall had been taken to new heights by her obsession with Kitty, Florence’s passion for social work is fuelled by her love for Lilian and her fascination with Eleanor Marx, for whom Florence nurtures the devotion of a loyal follower (cf. the end of Chapter 17 in Tipping the Velvet). Similarly, Florence’s hard work ethic and strict, scientific approach to her charitable efforts are also, if only in the mental attitude, a sort of masculine act of the kind that we have already outlined in the figure of social workers such as Beatrice Webb. Webb obviously thought that with her systematic, investigative study of the condition of the poor in the East End, she was trespassing into a male domain and repudiating the sympathetic and more directly engaged approach identified with a normal female reaction. Florence’s adoption of an industrious, unsentimental philanthropic frame of mind is therefore comparable to Nancy’s cross-dressing: Nancy chooses to look like a man, whereas Florence strives to think like one unbeknownst to herself.

Nancy therefore can be said to have more integrity than her partner, in that at least she is fully aware of the element of theatricality and performance in her life, whereas Florence seems unaware of the histrionic side of her vocation, and the ulterior motives and self-gratifying aspect of her own work. Ironically, Nancy’s fundamental honesty resides precisely in her picaresque pedigree and, in particular, in her ability to preserve her third-person, outsider status until the end: through her moral detachment, Nancy refuses to endorse not only Kitty’s hypocrisy, but also Florence’s self-righteous philanthropy — and Victorian hypocrisy and philanthropy in general, of course. These two traits are significantly combined by Diana who, for all her private cruelty and exploitation of the working classes, is also present at the demonstration in her public, charitable role: needless to say, Nancy’s inferior, dependent status could never really allow for an egalitarian relationship with her mistress/owner, who ends up being a genuinely unsympathetic character, perhaps the only real villain in the novel. The censure of the rich and callous master is hardly surprising in any narrative; what is more provocative is the subtle debunking of the conventional fairy tale formula, particularly in the demystification of the figure of the third, virtuous suitor carried out through a critical view of the role of the social worker and a constant emphasis on the element of performance in the main characters’ life. This strategy helps Waters expose the paucity of options for women to claim the right of entry and circulation in the Victorian metropolitan space: the truth of the matter remains, however blunt and unpalatable, that charity work gave women the freedom to roam around and observe the city, and the unsavoury parts of the city at that, through the adoption of a masculine posture; this is a freedom that would have otherwise be granted to women as women only in the guise of prostitutes. As Nancy herself puts it half-way through the novel: “I was a solitary girl, in a city that favoured sweethearts and gentlemen; a girl in a city where girls walked only to be gazed at.” (Waters, 191).


[1] This is the Victorian amateurish philanthropic attitude which is brilliantly captured, and subtly satirised, by Virginia Woolf’s representation of Mrs Ramsay, “ruminat[ing] the other problem, of rich and poor, and the things she saw with her own eyes, weekly, daily, here [in the Hebrides] or in London, when she visited this widow, or that struggling wife in person with a bag on her arm, and a note-book and pencil with which she wrote down in columns carefully ruled for the purpose wages and spendings, employment and unemployment, in the hope that thus she would cease to be a private woman whose charity was half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her own curiosity, and become, what with her untrained mind she greatly admired, an investigator, elucidating the social problem” (Woolf, 13).

[2] Cf. Epstein Nord on Beatrice Webb, a pioneering figure in the realm of Victorian female philanthropy: “It seemed clear to Webb that in choosing to take an analytic rather than an active posture toward poverty and the poor, she was embarking on a masculine rather than a feminine form of vocation.” (Epstein Nord, 190).

[3] Cf. Epstein Nord, specifically ‘Chapter One. The City as Theater: London in the 1820s’ and ‘Chapter Six. “Neither Pairs Nor Odd”: Women, Urban Community, and Writing in the 1880s’.

Works Cited

Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (1965), Hélène Iswolsky (tr.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel’ in The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays (1981), Michael Holquist (ed.), Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (tr.), Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990, 84-258.

Deborah Epstein Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets. Women, Representation, and the City, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975), in Sue Thornham (ed. and introd.), Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, New York: New York University Press, 1999, 58-69.

Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight. Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, London: Virago, 1992.

Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet (1998), London: Virago, 1999.

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927), London: Penguin, 1992.

To Cite This Article:

Stefania Ciocia, ‘”Journeying against the current”: a carnivalesque theatrical apprenticeship in Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 3 Number 1 (March 2005). Online at Accessed on [date of access].