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Waters, Sarah

Waters, Sarah

1966 - 

Sarah Waters is a British author, born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, Wales. She has described growing up with her sister as a safe and idyllic period of her life. Her father was an engineer and her mother a housewife. Sarah Waters attended Milford Haven Grammar School and moved to London in the 1980s where she became involved in the lesbian and gay movement. She has read English at the University of Kent and taught at the Open University. Sarah Waters lives in Brixton, South London. In 2011 she registered partnership with her long-time partner Lucy Vaughan.

Waters studied Victorian pornographic literature as part of her research for her Ph.D. thesis on lesbian and gay historical fiction. It gave her the idea for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet (1998), a 500-page novel about lesbian love in 1880s London. "Tipping the velvet" is a euphemism for oral sex. The novel was well received and has been referred to as a "lesbian Moll Flanders". A television drama based on the book was produced by the BBC in 2002.
    Her next novel, Affinity (1999), also set in Victorian London, was an even greater success than her first book, and she was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. A young aristocratic woman, Margaret Prior, is deeply depressed after the loss of her father. She deals with her grief by becoming involved in charitable work and visits the women’s department of the infamous Millbank prison where she encounters Selina Dawes, a medium she becomes increasingly drawn to. Affinity is darker than Tipping the Velvet and has a number of elements that qualify it as a sophisticated ghost story.
    Sarah Waters has been compared to Charles Dickens and Henry James in terms of her ability to evoke Victorian London. Many Dickensian characters are also found in the Booker-shortlisted Fingersmith (2002). Sue Trinder is an orphan brought up by the stern, but loving, Mrs. Sucksby and her “family” of orphans who are trained as pickpockets in 1860s London.
    Sarah Waters spent four years researching The Night Watch (2006), set during and after World War II. Four Londoners, three women and one man, are affected by the Blitz and their lives become linked by desire and disappointment, courage and treason. The lesbian love affair brings the women’s lives to the fore in an otherwise male-dominated era.
    The Little Stranger (2009) is set in the late 1940s. For the first time in Waters’ books the narrator is a man, Doctor Faraday. The novel is set at the down at heel family estate Hundreds Hall and eventually turns into a frightening, gothic ghost story that borrows elements from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Henry James’s The Turning of the Screw. Mysterious accidents and strange things occur, and Doctor Faraday sets out to discover the cause of the supernatural activities.
    The Paying Guests (2014) narrates the story of forbidden love in the 1920s in the aftermath of the First World War. A prosperous, up and coming middle class are able to spend money on leisure activities while the old aristocracy is dying out together with their servants and large households. Twenty-six-year-old Francis and her mother live in a large, elegant house in a prosperous London suburb, but after their husbands died in the war they are running out of money. In the end they must overcome their shame and take in lodgers. A married middle-class couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber, move in upstairs. To begin with, they attract the scorn of their landladies, but Frances is drawn to young Lillian, and they soon embark on a passionate affair, which must remain hidden from prying eyes.
    "Male homosexuality was illegal, but historically it is visible. Take Oscar Wile, for example. Female homosexuality has been all but invisible, but the stories are there if you look carefully. I think my books are able to fill that gap", says Sarah Waters in an interview with the Swedish daily Upsala Nya Tidning (April 15, 2015).

Article written by: Tony Samuelsson. Published: 2015-11-25

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