Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
In her sixth novel Vreeland tells the story of the life behind a famous artistic creation–in this case the Tiffany leaded-glass lamp. Clara Driscoll was a major creative force at Louis Tiffany’s Glass and Decorating Company. This was separate from the jewelry company, run by his father Charles. Some art historians now believe that it was Clara, unacknowledged in her lifetime, who conceived the lampshades. From 1892 to 1908, she oversaw the Women’s Department, where many of her workers were from poor immigrant families and still in their teens. Poor living conditions in the lower East Side, abusive relationships, and no respect in the workplace from most of the male workers made for a harsh life. Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the challenges that she faces as a professional woman. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted to Tiffany, who enforces a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually you come to realize that Clara is merely the woman-behind-the-man and Tiffany certainly doesn’t deserve her devotion. In the end he sides with the male workforce, showing his weak character. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.