Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Clara and Mr. Tiffany
Author: Susan Vreeland
Publisher: Random House
Published: December 22, 2010
Hardcover: 432 pages
Source: borrowed from library

My Rating: 2 stars

Synopsis (from 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.

My Thoughts: I have always found Tiffany lamps to be beautiful works of art, so when I heard about a book that took place in the Tiffany studios, I knew I had to read it. I had no idea that there was a woman's department at Tiffany's (the only one among the glass artisans at that time), and they produced those extravagant lamps that are so iconic. And when I read the description and learned that Clara Driscoll was a real person, I couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, the book just didn't pull me in and I never connected to Clara or any of the other characters.

First off, I kept on thinking that there wasn't much of a plot. Clara is struggling with her place as a woman in a society that's progressing past the Victorian ideals. She loves her work but also wishes to have the love of a man. After her first marriage ends, she goes back to work at Tiffany's (Mr. Tiffany does not allow married women to work in his studios), and it is at this time that Tiffany's begins to produce those iconic lamps. After that's established in the first few chapters, there doesn't seem to be much of anything going on. Clara goes to work, falls in love, fights for her lamps ... there was activity, but it didn't connect together into a plot!

Secondly, the characters. There were quite a few, but they weren't intriguing. They are all members of the art world, whether they write, paint, design in the Tiffany's studios, or something else. It was sometimes hard to keep track of everyone! Some characters only make brief apperanaces here and there, while others come back every few chapters. There were just too many people for me, and too many of them didn't contribute anything to the story.

I did love Susan Vreeland's writing, though. It was so descriptive and it's obvious how much research she did for this novel. However, if she had just written a nonfiction book on the life of Clara Driscoll instead of a work of fiction, it might have been more interesting. As anyone else read this book? I really wanted to like it and was so disappointed when it didn't live up to my expectations. I would love to know if someone read it and felt differently. Please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Ooh this sounds a bit disappointing. Based on your review, I would have to pass. I like intriguing characters.