Dear 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.
Living 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,