How does Tipping the Velvet exemplify the picaresque novel genre?

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Tipping the Velvet is a picaresque novel because it features a protagonist from humble origins whose many adventures lead to a successful outcome, and its settings are generally outside the bounds of respectable society.

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The term “picaresque” is derived from the Spanish word “pícaro,” which refers to a young man who undergoes a series of adventures. Generally coming from lowly circumstances, the protagonist emerges triumphant and often wealthy. This type of novel developed in the sixteenth century; the most well-known Spanish example is Lazarillo de Tormes. As the pícaro learns to live by his wits, he goes from being the victim of unscrupulous manipulators to surviving and thriving by turning the tables on them. As the genre became popular throughout Europe, female picaresque heroes also became common.

Sarah Waters’s novel, set in Victorian England, has many picaresque features. The protagonist, Nan Astley, comes from a small-town, working-class background and embarks on numerous adventures in cosmopolitan London. A period of work in the theater leads to her working as a prostitute while disguised as a man. Waters’s innovations include having a female protagonist who has sexual relationships with men and women. The setting of the London underworld also provides numerous opportunities for misadventure. Nan’s ultimate triumph comes not through trickery, however, but from honestly acknowledging her identity and feelings.

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