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Posts Tagged ‘clara and mr. tiffany’

Jane’s Bookshelf: A Garden of Books for Spring

Friday, March 30th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @JaneatRandom.

Language of Flowers PBMy garden is starting to come to life with some daffodils—“new beginnings”—and purple hyacinths—“please forgive me”—though I’m still waiting for the tulips—“declaration of love”. I learned about the meanings of different flowers from Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s magnificent first novel, THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. The novel’s heroine, Victoria Jones, is a fiercely independent and guarded young woman who is most comfortable communicating through flowers. From the moment Victoria leaves the foster group home where she grew up and enters the world as an adult, she relies on flowers to help her make her way—first when she works at a florist then to communicate with the man she eventually falls in love with. This beautiful story will have you rooting for this lovely, fragile young woman, needing to talk about the twists and turns in her story, as well as looking at every bouquet with a new eye as you try and decode its message.

Clara and MrTiffanyClara Driscoll, who spent decades working for Louis Comfort Tiffany, also knew a lot about flowers, for she was the designer of many of Tiffany’s most famous lamps—including the Wisteria, Lotus, and Laburnum lamps. Susan Vreeland’s novel CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY tells her story, introducing us to this gifted artist who, like so many women even now, must choose between her profession and her heart. Vreeland gives her readers a fascinating look at how both Clara and Tiffany created these gorgeous works of stained glass as well as the complicated friendship the two shared set against the changing social climate at the turn of the 20th century New York City.

Friendship has also been the core of many of my favorite novels: Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER, Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and Maeve Binchy’s CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. When I asked readers to name some of their favorites on Twitter they reminded me of others: Patrick Dennis’s AUNTIE MAME, John Knowles’s A SEPARATE PEACE, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS. On LibraryThing, Ann Brashares’s THE SISTERHOOD OFSisterhood Everlasting THE TRAVELING PANTS was mentioned as the third most tagged book about friendship. I hate to confess that I haven’t read the early books in Brashares’s series, but I absolutely adored SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING, the most recent installment and the first to have been published as an adult novel. The foursome—Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget—are about to turn 30 and are finding it harder to stay connected to their best pals as men, careers, and families take up more and more of their time—so they decide to take a trip together to cement their bonds of friendship and sisterhood. I can’t, of course tell you what happens, but let’s just say that Brashares’s novel is so emotionally satisfying and heartwarming that you’ll find yourself calling your BFFs just to say I miss you or sending them a bouquet of saxifrage—“affection”—and freesia—“lasting friendship.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite reads about friendship in the comments below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.

Susan Vreeland’s CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY: A letter to book clubs

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Vreeland author photo smallDear thoughtful readers,

As a measure of gratitude to book clubs having requested an American novel, I turned to our own shores and found rich reward in Louis Comfort Tiffany. For a century, everyone assumed that the iconic Tiffany lamps were conceived and designed by that American master of stained glass. Not so! It was a woman! Aha! A woman discovered by art historians as recently as 2005 and introduced to the public in a 2007 exhibition at the New York Historical Society. A vibrant, wry, freethinking New Woman ripe for a fictional treatment. I rubbed my hands together in glee.

As New York careens toward the modernity of the twentieth century when Gibson girls were transforming themselves into working women, Clara Driscoll enters the male field of stained glass artistry, and builds a lively, multi-national, multi-class women’s department within Tiffany Studios. Developing a new feminist consciousness, Clara and The Tiffany Girls must triumph over the intimidation of the male workers intent on ousting them.

Clara is torn between love and art. Holding on to the old order, Mr. Tiffany forbade his women workers from marrying. Loving in different ways the five men in her life, including Tiffany himself, Clara must decide repeatedly what makes her most happy–the professional world of her hands, or the personal world of her heart.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany coverLiving in a kaleidoscope of elements—opulence and poverty, excitement and despair, beauty and ugliness—all jostling each other, Clara witnesses the celebration of the consolidation of the five boroughs into the second largest city of the world, the flood of European immigrants into the Lower East Side, the opening of the first subway, the building of the first skyscrapers, the first lit ball descending from the Times Tower. She gazes high above the East River where a roadway had been flung over the tops of masts, suspended on wire threads between two lordly towers. The colossus of the Brooklyn Bridge speaks to her of courage and daring, genius and human effort on a grand scale, and she absorbs its inspirational effect. The whole city shouts to her, “Dare. Create. Love.”

Referring to visual beauty in an essay titled, “The Quest of Beauty,” Tiffany wrote, “There is beauty everywhere, in everything. It is a mental attitude.” However, Clara, or rather the act of rendering her story, taught me that there are more types of beauty than just the sensual beauties. There is the beauty of instinctive acts of generosity and caring, as evidenced by Edwin, Clara’s mysterious one-time fiancé, leaping off a rolling streetcar to tell the Russian woman of the job he found for her son. There is the beauty of Clara’s compassion for the Polish immigrants Julia and Olga whom she hired to prevent them from leading limited, hard-scrabble lives. There is the beauty of non-judgmental acceptance, as shown in her warm friendships with four gay artists, including the puckish, flamboyant, completely lovable George, and the masquerading and intellectual art director of Tiffany Studios. In the last analysis, these beauties may be more profoundly important than the beauties of the visible world.

Never have Clara Driscoll or Mr. Tiffany appeared in a novel until now, so this will be entirely fresh for your book club to discuss. As my schedule permits, your reading group of ten or more can arrange a phone chat with me by emailing me through my website, www.susanvreeland.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

With joyful expectations,

Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland’s CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY: a reading guide

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Clara and Mr. Tiffany coverA sweeping story of art and love set against the exciting backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York City.

It’s 1893 and 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 free-thinking Clara Driscoll. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Struggling with desire for artistic recognition and faced with the insurmountable challenges of a professional woman, Clara is ultimately forced to protest against the company she worked so hard to cultivate. She must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

Consider these questions when reading Clara and Mr. Tiffany:

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?

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