Thursday, April 14, 2011

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Isn't this gorgeous?

Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel
Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel by Susan Vreeland

The blurb:
At the dawn of the twentieth century, Louis Comfort Tiffany wants to honor his father and the family business with his innovative glass designs. But it is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women's division, who develops the iconic Tiffany lamp, with its leaded-glass shades and nature-based motifs, which earns Tiffany the critical acclaim and financial success he's long dreamed of. Yearning for recognition, balancing the glamorous world of the Gilded Age with the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, where some of her beloved girls live, and loving in different ways the five men in her life, Clara must decide what makes her most happy -the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

In Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland gives us a glimpse into New York City during the Gilded Age.  The novel centers on Clara Driscoll a critically important designer in Louis Comfort Tiffany's Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.  Clara designed many of the mosaics and the iconic Tiffany lamps at a time when women were afforded very few employment opportunities.  Her work at Tiffany's gave her a chance to focus on art and appreciate beauty and gave her some financial independence but also required that she remain single.  Tiffany only hired unmarried women - and once a woman married she had to leave the company.

We learn much about what it meant to live and work in America during this time.  Vreeland weaves these facts in with such skill that the period and people become real.  We read about the Chicago World's Fair, the use of electricity on the grounds,  and the impact that Tiffany's stained glass windows had.   We can picture the world through Clara's eyes, as she lives on Gramercy Park sharing a house with artists and writers.  The Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, the construction of the Flatiron Building, even Stanford White are all part of the narrative. 

Clara and Mr. Tiffany combines art, history, American Studies and cultural history but more than anything it is a glimpse into the life of a brave, creative, and tenacious young woman.  A fascinating and satisfying read - highly recommended!

ISBN-10: 1400068169 - Hardcover $26
Publisher: Random House (January 11, 2011), 432 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Susan Vreeland is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including Luncheon of the Boating Party, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Forest Lover, The Passion of Artemisia: A Novel,Life Studies: Stories, and What Love Sees.  She lives in San Diego.

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