Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

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.

Read more . . .

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.
Random House; First Edition edition (January 11, 2011)

Book Club Ideas

I have always had a great fondness for stained glass designs especially religious-themed windows which I often find to be awe-inspiring. I have several Tiffany-style (wish I could afford an original) lamps. I included my dragonfly lamp in my party decorations along with some chocolate daisies — Clara brought chocolate daisies, along with ice cream, to a particularly intense meeting with her Tiffany girls.

But, don’t go out and purchase a new Tiffany-style lamp for your party. I found this cool little stained glass light bulb  which puts off some very pretty colors for your party lighting.

The chocolate daisies are super easy to prepare with your favorite choice of melting chocolate and a daisies candy mold.

For a cute party favor for your guests, include Tiffany Designs Stained Glass Coloring Books. And, for your coffee table, the lovely, yet inexpensive Louis Comfort Tiffany Masterworks illustrated book.

Book Club Menu

I planned the meal by channeling my inner artist … sadly, my inner artist isn’t very artsy … but I did want to keep close to the theme, and had fun coming up with the menu ideas.

Artfully Arranged Fresh Baby Field Greens Salad

Artisan French Onion Soup

Glazed Pork Roast and Mosaic of Vegetables

Stained Glass Cake
(An old tried, true and terrific Jell-O recipe)

Pretty Pink Pomegranate Lemonade
(The “stained glass” ice cubes can be found at Bed Bath and Beyond,
but I haven’t had any luck finding them online.)

Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.67 stars ( 17,931 ratings)
Amazon: 4.1 stars (488 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.8 stars (233 ratings)
My Rating: 4.5 stars I loved all the background on the Tiffany lamps and the plight of working women in America at the turn of the century. I am a HUGE Susan Vreeland fan!

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

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? Read more . . .

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?
(Discussion Questions from Random House)

Purchase Clara and Mr. Tiffany at your favorite bookseller

The Author

International best-selling author, Susan Vreeland, is best known for her historical fiction on the lives of artists and their art. She is the author of one of my all-time favorite novels, The Passion of Artemesia.

  • New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, Luncheon of the Boating Party.
  • Book Sense Pick, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007.
  • Book Sense Year’s Favorites, for The Passion of Artemisia, 2002.
  • Book Sense Book of the Year Finalist, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999.
  • International Dublin Literary Award, Nominee, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 2001.
  • Independent Publisher Magazine, Storyteller of the Year, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999.
  • Foreword Magazine’s Best Novel of the Year, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue,1999.
  • San Diego Book Awards’ Theodor Geisel Award and Best Novel of the Year, 1999, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue; 2002 for The Passion of Artemisia.
  • 2005 for Life Studies.

Other Works by Susan Vreeland

More on Clara and Mr. Tiffany

The Tiffany Girls

Clara Driscoll is located on the far left standing behind chair with white blouse and glasses.

Click the link to the Clara Driscoll Gallery to view the exquisite designs of this thoroughly modern woman.

Beauty is what Nature has lavished upon us as a Supreme Gift.

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for ? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.