Whitstable Oysters and Slabs of Butter: Food as a Gateway to the (Neo-) Victorian World in Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Walter’s Tipping the Velvet is rich in food, from the glut of oysters that are served with ‘slabs of butter’ at the very beginning of the novel to the watercress that is crushed underfoot as a marker of the Nan Astley’s desperate situation. This paper will initially explore Walters’ use of the aforementioned oysters and watercress as symbols of abundance and sexuality and then, in turn, poverty and isolation, alongside other food tropes that appear in the novel. Arguing that the food used in the novel has a particularly ‘feminine’ status and connections, it will discuss how Waters uses it as a symbolic tool to navigate the transgression and reinforcement of Victorian boundaries in the text.

Secondly, it will argue that food is one of essential mechanisms deployed by Waters in her creation of a realistic Victorian world. The consumption of victuals in Waters’ novel will be examined alongside Victorian cookbooks and dietary guides to explore the significance of the provisions chosen to represent typically Victorian fare. It will also utilise 21st century writings on food and food history in order to understand why these foodstuffs have retained an inextricable connection to the past in our 21st century imaginations.

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