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Clara and Mr. Tiffany
by Susan Vreeland



Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland

Author Interview

About the Book

It’s 1893 and 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 free-thinking Clara Driscoll. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Struggling with desire for artistic recognition and faced with the insurmountable challenges of a professional woman, Clara is ultimately forced to protest against the company she worked so hard to cultivate. She must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

About the Author

“Coming out of the Louvre for the first time in 1971, dizzy with new love, I stood on Pont Neuf and made a pledge to myself that the art of this newly discovered world in the Old World would be my life companion. Never had history been more vibrant, its voices more resonating, its images more gripping. On this first trip to Europe, I felt myself a pilgrim: To me, even secular places such as museums and ruins were imbued with the sacred. Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, religious and social history--I was swept away with all of it, wanting to read more, to learn languages, to fill my mind with rich, glorious, long-established culture wrought by human desire, daring, and faith. I wanted to keep a Gothic cathedral alive in my heart.”

“I loved the people of my imagination: the man whose last breath in his flattened chest was taken under the weight of a stone fallen from the Duomo under construction in Florence, the apprentice who cut himself preparing glass for the jeweled windows of Sainte Chapelle, the sweating quarry worker aching behind his crowbar at Carrara to release a marble that would become the Pietà, the proud mother who, weeping and full of misgivings, sent her child on the last Crusade, the gaiety of the Montmartre dancers at Moulin de la Galette.

Now some facts as to how I arrived here: After graduating from San Diego State University, I taught high school English in San Diego beginning in 1969 and retired in 2000 after a 30-year career. Concurrently, I began writing features for newspapers and magazines in 1980, taking up subjects in art and travel, and publishing 250 articles. I ventured into fiction in 1988 with What Love Sees, a biographical novel of a woman's unwavering determination to lead a full life despite blindness. My short fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Confrontation, Alaska Quarterly Review, Manoa, Connecticut Review, Calyx, Crescent Review, So To Speak and elsewhere.”

- Susan Vreeland from her website


Selected awards:

•New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, Luncheon of the Boating Party, Clara and Mr. Tiffany.

•Shortlisted for Lannon Literary Award for Fiction, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, 2011.

•San Diego Book Awards Best Historical Fiction for Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007.

•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, and 2005 for Life Studies.

Discussion Questions

  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?
  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 Susan Vreeland novels 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?

-- taken from the Random House Reading Guide