Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#BookReview: Clara and Mr. Tiffany - Susan Vreeland

I tried to read this book twice and failed, so I thought I'd give the audio version a try.  It took me over a month to get through the CDs, and not just because it was a long listen at 16 hours.  It just didn't hold my attention and I found myself listening to the radio, which I hate, instead of the book.  I eventually made it through, if only because I didn't have another audio book.


Set in the late 1800s through the first quarter of the new century, Clara and Mr. Tiffany is about Clara Driscoll, head of the women's division at Tiffany Studios.  Not to be confused with the Tiffany Company that we know as the present day jewelry store, Tiffany Studios produced window mosaics and, most famously, lamps.  Louis Comfort Tiffany often failed to submit the names of the designers of Tiffany Studios' prized works, but exhibits in the last few years have credited most of his successful and intricate pieces to Clara.

This was quite an unnecessarily lengthy read.  I'd say that a quarter of the book focused on Clara's time at the studios, while the rest focused on her failed relationships with men and her friendship with the other boarders where she resided.  At times, there were just too many characters to keep track of and try to remember their story line or how they were connected to her.  The most interesting interactions were between Clara and "the girls" of Tiffany Studios.

Tiffany Studios' dragonfly lamp
Because Clara designed such intricate pieces, smaller hands and greater attention to detail were needed to select and cut the glass and then assemble them.  For this reason, a small staff of women were kept on hand. The book highlights the rights of women to work, even as they were excluded from unions.  At one point, the number of women allowed on the job was limited because the men felt threatened by them and their ability to turn work around quickly and work unrestricted hours, since they did not belong to a union.

In addition to the work inequality forced upon the women by the demands of the men's union, Louis Comfort Tiffany did not allow married women to work in his studios.  Quite a few of the women, who tended to be immigrants that needed the money to help their families, had to quit upon getting married.  In most instances, they were making more money than their future husbands and getting married was a step down for them economically.  Twice married or engaged, Clara left Tiffany and only returned when her marriage or engagement ended.  While women were held to these standards by Tiffany, who didn't want the distraction of a husband or children interfering with his work production, no such limits were placed on his male workers.

From a historical fiction aspect, this is a perfectly good read.  However, if you're looking for entertainment or a story that really draws you in, this probably isn't the read for you.







432pp
Published: January 2011
Listening time 16 hours


Theme: Sufferin' till Suffrage from Schoolhouse Rock

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