Affinity (novel)

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First edition (p/b)
AuthorSarah Waters
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)

Affinity is a 1999 historical fiction novel by Sarah Waters. It is the author's second novel, following her debut Tipping the Velvet. Set during 1870s Victorian England, it tells the story of a woman, Margaret Prior, who is haunted by a shadowy past and in an attempt to cure her recent bout of illness and depression, begins visits to the women's wards of Millbank Prison. Whilst there she becomes entranced by the spiritualist Selina Dawes, with whom she becomes obsessed and begins an inappropriate relationship. Written as an epistolary novel, the story alternates as a series of diary entries written by both main characters.

Like her first novel, Affinity contains overarching lesbian themes, and was acclaimed by critics on its publication.


Margaret Prior (also called "Peggy" and "Aurora"), an unmarried woman from an upper-class family, visits the Millbank Prison in 1870s Victorian-era England. Margaret is generally unhappy, recovering from her father's death and her subsequent suicide attempt, and struggling with her lack of power living at home with her over-involved mother despite being almost 30. To counter this, she becomes a "Lady Visitor" of the prison's female wards, hoping to escape her troubles and be a guiding figure in the lives of the female prisoners. On her first visit she is entranced by the sight of a young woman with a flower, who reminds her of a Carlo Crivelli painting. She learns that this woman is Selina Dawes, who is a somewhat infamous medium of spirits jailed two years previously for the apparent death of the lady with whom she resided. After their early discussions Margaret begins to confide in Selina inappropriate details of her past, and learn more about spiritualism; before long, the relationship evolves and appears to take on a life of its own...



  • Margaret Prior, the protagonist. Margaret is from an upper-class family that resides in Chelsea, London, and begins to visit Millbank some months after attempting suicide following her father's death.
  • Selina Dawes, a medium of spirits who is jailed after the wealthy woman she lives with (Mrs Brink) dies suddenly after witnessing a sitting Selina is taking with another wealthy young woman in their home.


Awards and Citations[edit]

  • Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award (shortlist), 2000
  • Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction, 2000
  • Lambda Literary Award for Fiction (shortlist), 2000
  • Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (shortlist), 2000
  • Somerset Maugham Award, 2000
  • Stonewall Book Award (American Library Association GLBT Roundtable Book Award), 2000
  • Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, 2000
  • This Mystery is Excellent! (trans: Kono Mystery ga Sugoi!) Best Translated Crime Fiction in Japan, 1st Place, 2004

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel was adapted into a screenplay by Andrew Davies. A feature film based on Davies' adaptation of Affinity premiered on 19 June 2008 at the opening night of Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, at the Castro Theater.[1][2]

The film was first shown on ITV1 in the United Kingdom on 28 December 2008.


'It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven't I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two-halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul – I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary...'

— Selina Dawes


Year Language Title
2013 Czech Náklonnost
2012 Korea 끌림
2009 Chinese 半身
2006 Dutch Affiniteit
2006 Hebrew זרעים של חיבה
2005 Swedish Livstråden
2005 Taiwan 華麗的邪惡
2004 French Affinités
2004 Italian Affinità
2004 Russian Нить, сотканная из тьмы (издательство: Росмэн-Пресс)
2004 Polish Niebanalna więź
2002 German Selinas Geister