Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

By Ekta R. Garg

May 11, 2011

Rated: Bookmark it!

Imagine living at the turn of the twentieth century and waging a personal fight for the equality of your gender.  Clara Driscoll, the director of the Women’s Glass Department at the Tiffany Studios, did just that.  Clara was an artist first and foremost, and she worked closely with company head Louis Tiffany (son of the founder of the famed jewelry chain) to develop the intricate glass windows and lamp shades used as ornamentation in upper class homes at the time.

But Clara also believed wholeheartedly in the advancement of women, in giving them a fair shot at equality, and she didn’t hesitate to go toe to toe with upper management when they resisted the change.  Clara’s art and her deep belief in women’s rights are the subject of the novel Clara and Mr. Tiffany, based on the life of Driscoll and her work for Tiffany.

Written by Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a fascinating look at life in New York City just as it was coming into its own as The Big Apple.  Against the backdrop of the city’s progress, the book begins with Clara Driscoll returning to work for Mr. Tiffany after a forced resignation.  Mr. Tiffany doesn’t permit married women to work for him, and following the death of her husband, Francis, Clara comes back to what she knows best: her art and intimate working relationship with Mr. Tiffany.

For anyone who has ever heard of Tiffany glass or Tiffany lamps, this book will certainly delight.  Author Vreeland goes into intricate detail about the painstaking work required to make these beautiful accessories but she manages to keep from overwhelming her readers, which is difficult with something so labor-intensive as these lamps and windows.  Vreeland’s pleasant writing style paints vivid pictures of Clara’s life, her awe and excitement in her work rivaling only that of the developing city around her.

While Vreeland did take some creative license with Clara’s actual story, those liberties enhance the story and make one wish more information of that time period and the work of Clara and the “Tiffany girls” had survived.  It’s not obvious in the book, but Clara reportedly wrote long letters to family members talking about her invention of the lamp shades.  Discovery of the letters in 2007 changed completely the original notion that Tiffany had been the creative force behind the creation of the lamps, and more than a hundred years after she left the studio Clara Driscoll finally got the full credit she deserved for her artistic vision.

The book has a slightly meandering feel to it; Vreeland takes her time to develop the story, told in first-person through Clara’s voice, so readers may get the slightest bit impatient at one point or another.  Despite the country-stroll feel of it, however, Clara’s story reminds us of a truly exciting time in our history as she witnesses such firsts as the first subway ride and a chance encounter with O. Henry.  While it’s not clear whether the real Clara Driscoll ever experienced such things, one can easily forgive Vreeland for any creative license here.  She gets the feel of the era just right, and readers won’t mind the fudging of the facts in these instances.

I highly recommend Clara and Mr. Tiffany to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  The bonus with Clara and Mr. Tiffany, however, comes in knowing this particular book is a true story, and is more enjoyable because of it.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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