Day 181: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Cover for Clara and Mr. TiffanySusan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a novel about Clara Driscoll, a real artist who headed a woman’s workshop designing the most complex lamps and screens for Louis Comfort Tiffany. The novel details the ups and downs of a long professional relationship, including Driscoll’s frustration at not being recognized as the designer of some of Tiffany’s most famous pieces. A lot of the interest in the novel resides in the tension between the women’s division and the men’s division, which was only allowed to work on the more mundane pieces.

Right now I am reading some of Vreeland’s own comments about the captivating woman she found depicted in Clara’s own letters. Unfortunately for the novel, Vreeland does not do a great job of making her characters interesting in this book or of conveying the woman she found in those letters. Several important but minor characters are so undefined that I couldn’t keep them straight.

I believe that Vreeland is hindered rather than helped by the fact that she is fictionalizing the lives of real people whose relatives are probably still alive. She has written more successful books about artists who lived farther in the past–Monet in Luncheon of the Boating Party and Artemisia Gentileschi in The Passion of Artemesia, for example. There are certainly interesting aspects to the story–Driscoll had an unusual life featuring at least one bizarre event–but the novel is written more like a series of incidents than a narrative with an arc.

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