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Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel Paperback – March 20, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980189
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (362 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from Author Susan Vreeland


© Sam Ryu
Discovering Clara
For a century, everyone assumed that the iconic Tiffany lamps were conceived and designed by that American master of stained glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Not so! It was a woman! Aha!

If it weren't for the Victorian zest for writing voluminous letters, Clara Driscoll would be only a footnote in the history of decorative arts. However, by an astonishing coincidence in 2005, three individuals unknown to each other--a distant relative of Clara, a Tiffany scholar, and an archivist at the Queens Historical Society--each aware of only one collection of Clara's letters, brought the correspondence to the attention of two art historians specializing in Tiffany, Martin Eidelberg and Nina Gray.

The result was electric. The two art historians contacted Margaret K. Hofer, Curator of Decorative Arts at the New York Historical Society which owns a huge collection of Tiffany lamps. Together they mounted an exhibition in 2007, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, in which Clara was hailed as "a gifted unsung artist" whose letters provided an eyewitness account of the workings of Tiffany Studios and revealed the vital role played by women. Their startling discovery rocked the art world.

While I was on tour in New York for my 2007 novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party, my agent and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a lavish Tiffany exhibit recreating a portion of his fabled Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. Instantly, I fell in love with Tiffany glass. By another coincidence, her husband spotted a review of the New York Historical Society exhibition, which we saw the next day. I was intrigued, but not convinced until I read the illuminating exhibition book as well as Clara's correspondence at the library of Kent State University, Ohio, and at the Queens Historical Society.

Poring over her letters, I discovered the wry, lively, sometimes rhapsodic voice of a freethinking woman who bicycled all around Manhattan and beyond, wore a riding skirt daringly shorter than street length, adored opera, followed the politics of the city even though she couldn't vote, and threw herself into the crush of Manhattan life--the Gilded Age uptown as well as the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side. There before me in her own handwriting was an account of her making the first leaded-glass lampshade with mosaic base. I recognized her to be a dynamic yet tender leader who developed the Women's Department which created the nature-based lamps she designed. I rubbed my hands together in glee.

When I remembered that my mother, who lovingly called colors by their flower and fruit names, and who worked briefly as a lamp designer in Chicago in the 1930s, was required to resign from another position when she became engaged, just like the Tiffany Girls were required to do, I felt a personal connection to Clara. I sought out as many of her lamps as I could find, researched Tiffany and New York's cultural history in more than fifty books and articles, and then I eagerly settled down to write the story I felt was mine to tell.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party) again excavates the life behind a famous artistic creation--in this case the Tiffany leaded-glass lamp, the brainchild not of Louis Comfort Tiffany but his glass studio manager, Clara Driscoll. Tiffany staffs his studio with female artisans--a decision that protects him from strikes by the all-male union--but refuses to employ women who are married. Lucky for him, Clara's romantic misfortunes--her husband's death, the disappearance of another suitor--insure that she can continue to craft the jewel-toned glass windows and lamps that catch both her eye and her imagination. Behind the scenes she makes her mark as an artist and champion of her workers, while living in an eclectic Irving Place boarding house populated by actors and artists. Vreeland ably captures Gilded Age New York and its atmosphere--robber barons, sweatshops, colorful characters, ateliers--but her preoccupation with the larger historical story comes at the expense of Clara, whose arc, while considered and nicely told, reflects the times too closely in its standard-issue woman-behind-the-man scenario. (Jan.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Susan Vreeland's short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Missouri Review, Confrontation, New England Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her first novel, What Love Sees, was made into a CBS Sunday Night Movie. She teaches English literature and Art in San Diego public schools.

Customer Reviews

The book was so so .It was too long and the story dragged on.
sheila
And the stories are all told very well and are based mostly on actual information from that period of history.
J. Smith
Clara and Mr. Tiffany tells the story of Clara Driscoll, the creative impetus behind the iconic Tiffany lamps.
Ellis Bell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

176 of 179 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on November 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Clara Driscoll (1861-1944) was an actual designer who worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) at the turn of the last century. This novel steps into her shoes as she creates designs with colored glass pieces and manages the all-woman studio that assembles signature Tiffany windows and lampshades. While the storyline traces this independent woman's days over the course of sixteen years, it also by necessity touches on some of the tensions of the times: the limitations in the rights of women; the difficulties of newly-arrived immigrants to the boroughs of New York; and the demands of trade unions and the administrative challenges they can cause. It juxtaposes Art against Commerce, raising the question of which one of the two is more important. This is a dichotomy the Tiffany company itself must face and must resolve in order to survive.

But at its core, this book is about an artistic woman who seeks value in her life and in her work. Clara tells her tale in the first person; and through her eyes, we are thus able to witness her personal and professional setbacks and successes. We meet the assortment of her fellow bohemians who reside in one particular Irishwoman's boarding house. As we take Clara's side and hope that she finds all of the external validation and the happiness that she deserves, we come to realize that her boss, Mr. Tiffany, is in search of those same satisfactions, too. The lingering question is: Will they both succeed?

Good historical fiction introduces us to worlds we do not know firsthand. It teaches us history while it confirms for us the universality of the human experience. Author Susan Vreeland conveys these concepts well. Even her chapter headings reflect the storyline.
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136 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had never read a book by Vreeland but was excited to read about Louis Comfort Tiffany (whose supposed works! I have always admired) so I jumped on this book. I was at first put off by the writing style and marked passages I thought clumsy and awkward, mostly passages that were there to teach the reader something about working with glass, but having these lecturing phrases in the mouths of the characters was rather offputting. Luckily I was quickly drawn into the drama of the women who worked under Clara's supervision and Clara's own artistic triumphs in creating some of Tiffany's most famous lamps. I ended up buying a pictoral book on these lamps and windows from Amazon and mean to buy the book for a friend ALONG with the picture book which I know will add much to the story since the creation of many of the lamps is discussed in detail.

I was much struck while reading this that many have wondered why there have not been more famous women artists, writers, composers, etc. Well, this woman was not known as the creator of these "Tiffany" lamps until letters she had written home were discovered very recently. That is the compelling part of this novel for me. I don't think I would have enjoyed this as much as I would if it had not been based on a real person's story and that person was a victim of her time - Tiffany's "girls" were not allowed to marry, if they did they lost their positions. They were certainly not allowed to form a union. The men's union at Tiffany worked hard to get them shut down and concessions had to be made to allow them to have a woman's workshop - this was early 1900s.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By RoloPoloBookBlog on June 24, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Historical fiction author Susan Vreeland has done it again! In her latest novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel, Vreeland creates a wonderfully compelling story of an artist and the world she lived and worked in. This fascinating story traces sixteen years of Clara Driscoll's life between 1892 and 1908, the years she served as head of the Women's Department at the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Vreeland asserts in her novel that it was in fact Clara Driscoll and not Louis Comfort Tiffany who hit upon the idea for the now famous Tiffany lamps!
Vreeland does not make this radical claim without proof and true to form she has woven this particular story around extant historical documentation. In this instance, Vreeland was able to use Clara Driscoll's own words as expressed in her letters which were discovered in 2005. Vreeland's novel is filled with details and descriptions of life in New York City. In fact, these descriptions are one of the novel's greatest strengths; Vreeland's ability to create such incredible images with her words gives the reader the opportunity to completely understand what life was like for an unmarried woman living and working in turn of the century New York.
Clara Driscoll's time at the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company was not just about her creation and designing the leaded glass lamps but also about the creation and flourishing of the Women's Department with Clara as its head. In a time when women barely had any rights at all, Clara Driscoll saw that her girls earned a fair wage and were treated with respect. Admittedly, these issues were not always easy ones and Vreeland expertly deals with the social aspects of women in the workplace.
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