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Clara and Mr. Tiffany (Vreeland)

Clara and Mr. Tiffany 
Susan Vreeland, 2011
Random House
432 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400068166


Summary
Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—N/A
Education—San Diego State University
Awards—Inkwell Grand Prize, Fiction, 1999; San Diego Book
  Awards' Theodore Geisel Award and Best Novel of the Year, 
  2002.
>Currently—lives in San Diego, California, USA


Susan Vreeland's short fiction has appeared in journals such as The New England Review, The Missouri Review, Confrontation, Calyx, Manoa, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her first novel, What Love Sees, was broadcast as a CBS Sunday night movie in 1996. Ms. Vreeland is the recipient of several awards, including a Women's National Book Association First Place Award in Short Fiction (1991) and a First Place in Short Fiction from New Voices (1993). Inkwell Magazine for her short story, "Gifts". She teaches English literature, creative writing, and art in San Diego public schools, where she has taught since 1969. (From the publisher.)

More
"When I was nine, my great-grandfather, a landscape painter, taught me to mix colors," Susan Vreeland recalls in an interview on her publisher's web site. "With his strong hand surrounding my small one, he guided the brush until a calla lily appeared as if by magic on a page of textured watercolor paper. How many girls throughout history would have longed to be taught that, but had to do washing and mending instead?"

As a grown woman, Vreeland found her own magical way of translating her vision of the world into art. While teaching high school English in the 1980s, she began to write, publishing magazine articles, short stories, and her first novel, What Love Sees. In 1996, Vreeland was diagnosed with lymphoma, which forced her to take time off from teaching—time she spent undergoing medical treatment and writing stories about a fictional Vermeer painting.

Creative endeavor can aid healing because it lifts us out of self-absorption and gives us a goal," she later wrote. In Vreeland's case, her goal "was to live long enough to finish this set of stories that reflected my sensibilities, so that my writing group of twelve dear friends might be given these and know that in my last months I was happy—because I was creating."

Vreeland recovered from her illness and wove her stories into a novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue. The book was a national bestseller, praised by the New York Times as "intelligent, searching and unusual" and by Kirkus Reviews as "extraordinarily skilled historical fiction: deft, perceptive, full of learning, deeply moving." Its interrelated stories move backward in time, creating what Marion Lignana Rosenberg in Salon called "a kind of Chinese box unfolding from the contemporary hiding-place of a painting attributed to Vermeer all the way back to the moment the work was conceived."

Vreeland's next novel, The Passion of Artemisia, was based on the life of the 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, often regarded as the first woman to hold a significant place in the history of European art. "Forthright and imaginative, Vreeland's deft recreation ably showcases art and life," noted Publishers Weekly.

Love for the visual arts, especially painting, continues to fire Vreeland's literary imagination. Her new novel, The Forest Lover, is a fictional exploration of the life of the 20th-century Canadian artist Emily Carr. She has also written a series of art-related short stories. For Vreeland, art provides inspiration for living as well as for literature. As she put it in an autobiographical essay, "I hope that by writing art-related fiction, I might bring readers who may not recognize the enriching and uplifting power of art to the realization that it can serve them as it has so richly served me."

Extras
• Two other novels relating to Vermeer were published within a year of Girl in Hyacinth Blue: The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

• Vreeland lives in San Diego with her husband, a software engineer. She taught high school English and ceramics for 30 years before retiring to become a full-time writer. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews 
Clara and Mr. Tiffany is about art and commerce, love and duty. Peopled with characters both imagined and historic, it is also a study of New York's ultra-rich and desperate poor, its entitled men and its disenfranchised women. And it is the story of one extraordinary woman's passion and determination…Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.
Eugenia Zuckerman - Washington Post


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.
Publishers Weekly


Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party) creates another affecting story of artistic vision and innovation, this time set within the crafts movement around the turn of the 19th century. She tells the story of Clara Driscoll, who ran the women's workshop at the New York studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany. In Vreeland's account, it was Clara who had the idea to create lampshades from stained glass; Mr. Tiffany, unconcerned with profits, gave her the freedom to follow her creative instincts. While Clara had her share of personal struggles, she lived happily among artists and bohemians during a time of great social change; settlement houses, women's suffrage, and trade unions were among the nascent progressive movements that influenced her life and times. Verdict: In trademark style, Vreeland adds depth to her novel by incorporating details about the artistic process. Her descriptions highlight the craftsmanship behind the timeless beauty of Tiffany's glass, and the true story of Clara Driscoll's life serves as a colorful canvas. Recommended for historical fiction readers; likely to become a favorite on the book club circuit. —Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty
Library Journal


In her sixth work of fiction about the inter-penetration of life and art, Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007, etc.) celebrates the putative designer of Tiffany's leaded-glass lampshades. That would be Clara Driscoll. Some art historians now believe that it was Clara, unacknowledged in her lifetime, who conceived the lampshades. What is indisputable is that, encouraged by Louis Tiffany, she was a major creative force at his Glass and Decorating Company. (This was separate from the jewelry company, run by his father Charles.) From 1892 to 1908, she oversaw the Women's Department; many of her workers were from poor immigrant families and still in their teens. Louis would not employ married women. Clara had returned to the company after her much older husband Francis died, omitting her from his will. Vreeland's account of the marriage is sketchy; her primary focus is on the workplace. Here Clara is a commanding figure: a mother hen to the Tiffany Girls, a feminist challenging the rampant sexism of the Men's Department and an imaginative innovator marrying glass to flowers and insects. Her greatest triumph was the dragonfly lamp at the Paris Exposition, though even there she was not given credit. However, she did find consolation in her bohemian downtown boardinghouse, especially in the company of the madcap painter George Waldo (gay, like several of their fellow lodgers) and his straight brother Edwin, a prospective husband until his mysterious disappearance. Vreeland guides us conscientiously through the world of glass, of cames and cabochons, though the detail can be overwhelming. More damagingly, she has let the stifling propriety of the time infect Clara as narrator; though prim among her peers, she could surely have unbuttoned to us, her readers. Louis, cocooned in reverence, suffers too. His one memorable scene comes after his wife's death when, a remorseful drunk, his language turns salty. A novel that reads like a labor of love. Unfortunately, the labor is as evident as the love.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. How do Clara’s yearnings and goals change during the course of the novel. What personal growth is revealed, and what experiences prompt that growth?

2. At the first Tiffany Ball with Edwin in chapter nine, Clara says, “We straddled a double world.” How does that play out in Clara’s experience? What did she learn from Edwin?

3. Of all of the adjectives Clara and Alice heap on Tiffany in chapter twenty-seven, which ones do you believe are justified and which are exaggerations? In spite of their accusations, Clara says in the same scene that she adores him. How can that be? Did she truly love him? What kind of love was it?

4. How was Clara’s love different for each of the five men in her life? Given that love can sometimes be an indefinable thing, in each case, what prompted her love and how did it change, if at all?

5. Is George Waldo a tragic character? Is Edwin? Is Wilhelmina? How do you define tragic character?

6. Throughout the novel there are social contrasts–rich and poor, suffering and insouciance. Speculate on how these serve to make Clara a more well-rounded or deeper person, as well as how they serve to make the novel transcend the period depicted.

7. Mr. Tiffany makes a surprising final concession in chapter forty-seven. What was it based on? In light of it, should Clara have stayed working at Tiffany Studios? How was her decision right or wrong for her?

8. How is the Brooklyn Bridge an icon or symbol of the time? Consider its style, the construction process, the men and woman who worked on it. You may have to do a little research. Why was Edwin so moved by it? What other material things were symbols of the time? In what way were Tiffany lamps icons of the time?

9. The style and sensibility that had no name at the turn of the century came to be known as camp, one element of which is seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon and then exaggerating it. Another element of it is the playful duplicity of which Henry Belknap speaks. What art movements, artists, or pieces of art in your lifetimes reflect the camp sensibility? Do you own anything with camp sensibility? Oscar Wilde, spokesperson of high camp, said, “In matters of great importance, the vital element is not sincerity, but style.” To what extent do you hold this to be true? Was he just being flippant by making this statement or is there any truth to it?

10. The protagonists of two other novels of mine are female artists. How do Clara’s goals, obstacles, and attitudes compare with those of Artemisia Gentileschi and Emily Carr? Has anything changed for women in the arts?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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