Reviews of

Clara and Mr. Tiffany


Complete reviews are below; just follow the respective periodical links.

Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.


There’s no excuse for any reader of high-quality literary fiction to let this novel pass by.

-- BOOKLIST    Starred Review

Not for art lovers only; read it if you enjoy love, human drama, and American cultural history
Library Journal, August 15, 2010

The true story of Clara Driscoll's life serves as a colorful canvas... likely to become a favorite on the bookclub circuit.
Library Journal, November 5, 2010


Vreeland's writing is so graceful, her research so exhaustive, that a reader is enfolded in the world of Tiffany and Driscoll.


Vreeland's illuminating vision of Clara's story is a pleasure to experience.


Vreeland offers a fascinating look at turn-of-the-century New York City.

-- PEOPLE MAGAZINE    4 stars

A novel as sparkling and elegant as a Tiffany lampshade.


Susan Vreeland offers up a beautiful basket of historic threads pulled from the life of Clara Driscoll.


Taking the Shade off a Woman's Art

The beauty and opalescence of authentic Tiffany lamps have charmed people for more than a century. Until recently, it was believed that these creations were solely the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, but in 2005, a group of art historians discovered that, in fact, the designer was a woman: Clara Driscoll. This revelation shook the art world and inspired the best-selling author Susan Vreeland to imagine the life and times of the spirited Mrs. Driscoll.

"In 1893 the name of Louis Comfort Tiffany will be on the lips of millions!" Louis brags to Clara in Vreeland's novel. He's a short man with a lisp and an Oedipal desire to outdo his father, the renowned jeweler. Wildly talented, deeply driven and self-indulgent, Louis is a leader of many contradictions - allowing Clara to expand her department of "Tiffany Girls," while refusing to hire married women; encouraging Clara's artistic creativity, while forbidding his own daughters a college education.

Set in New York City at the tumultuous turn of the 20th century, "Clara and Mr. Tiffany" is about art and commerce, love and duty. Peopled with characters both imagined and historic, it is also a study of New York's ultra-rich and desperate poor, its entitled men and its disenfranchised women. And it is the story of one extraordinary woman's passion and determination. As the book opens, Clara's husband has died, leaving her without any money; she rents a room in a boardinghouse and returns to Tiffany Studios, where she had been a valued employee before her marriage.

When she comes up with an idea for making lampshades of leaded glass, Tiffany's enthusiasm thrills her, until she realizes that he has appropriated her invention as his own. "The idea was mine!" she mourns. "The process is mine!" And yet, despite feeling betrayed, Clara will later say of her boss: "I adored him. He and I [were] artistic lovers, passionate without a touch of the flesh. He made me thrive."

The book brims with fascinating information about Tiffany's glassmaking and about New York as its gilded age gives way to a more progressive era. Clara stands at the story's center as a woman ahead of her time, a female artist who mentors others and demands equality. When, because of jealousy, the men of the Glaziers and Glass Cutters Union threaten a strike unless Tiffany shuts down the women's department, Clara leads her "girls" into the fray with Susan B. Anthony's words: "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.

-- Eugenia Zukerman, WASHINGTON POST
-- January 11, 2011

Reprinted in NY Newsday, Miami Herald, and Seattle Times.

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BOOKLIST    Starred Review

The first thing to be said about a Vreeland novel is that the reader learns a lot from it, but the joy and delight of a Vreeland novel is that the knowledge gleaned from her beautifully articulate pages is not forced on you, not delivered as if from a podium. Welcome here to the world of Clara Driscoll, whom Vreeland has brought to light from the archives of Tiffany Glass Company to establish what is most probably her rightful place in the history of American decorative arts. This deep-reaching novel is based on the likelihood that Clara conceived the famous Tiffany leaded-glass lamp shade, which has come down from the early years of the twentieth century as the epitome of the creativity in glass for which the Tiffany outfit was known. Clara worked in the women’s studio for founder Louis Tiffany himself and struggled against the anti-female bias of the company—like that of any other company of the time, for that matter—to position herself as a first-rate artisan in her boss’ eyes. Plus, Vreeland takes Clara out of the workplace to give her a personal life quite suitable for not only the time but also her strong personality. There’s no excuse for any reader of high-quality literary fiction to let this novel pass by.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Vreeland will appear as a panelist at the Author Forum at ALA’s Midwinter Conference in January, and librarian interest will be supercharged by that event.

-- Brad Hooper, BOOKLIST
-- October, 2010

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The famed Tiffany lamp, with its leaded glass, coruscating colors, and nature motifs, was actually developed by Clara Driscoll, head of Tiffany's women's division. It brought the company critical acclaim as well as a desperately needed financial boost, but it also brought trouble. Even as Driscoll rushed to find a way to mass produce the stunning lamps, struggling with her new role as manager as well as personal burdens (she was first widowed and then abandoned by her second husband), Louis Comfort Tiffany got some wild ideas of his own that could have wrecked the company. It's a true story, but trust Vreeland, who writes insightfully about art and through it about human relationships, to turn this into superlative fiction. Her debut, The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, remains one of my favorite books, and Luncheon of the Boating Party was electrifying-it made me see Renoir's painting in a whole new way. Not for art lovers only; read it if you enjoy love, human drama, and American cultural history.

-- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
-- August 15, 2010

Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party) creates another affecting story of artistic vision and innovation, this time set within the crafts movement around the turn of the 19th century. She tells the story of Clara Driscoll, who ran the women's workshop at the New York studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany. In Vreeland's account, it was Clara who had the idea to create lampshades from stained glass; Mr. Tiffany, unconcerned with profits, gave her the freedom to follow her creative instincts. While Clara had her share of personal struggles, she lived happily among artists and bohemians during a time of great social change; settlement houses, women's suffrage, and trade unions were among the nascent progressive movements that influenced her life and times. VERDICT In trademark style, Vreeland adds depth to her novel by incorporating details about the artistic process. Her descriptions highlight the craftsmanship behind the timeless beauty of Tiffany's glass, and the true story of Clara Driscoll's life serves as a colorful canvas. Recommended for historical fiction readers; likely to become a favorite on the book club circuit.

-- Susanne Wells, Library Journal
-- November 5, 2010

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Clara Driscoll emerges like a shy child from behind the dramatic sweep, the enormous reputation of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Driscoll was his preeminent designer, creator of the famous leaded lamps. She started a women's studio at Tiffany's, where some of the company's most enduring designs were created. The struggles of the era, the Gilded Age in New York City, are embodied in this woman -- torn between money (work) and art; confused by her changing role as a woman and her professional relationship with Tiffany, a boss who insisted that his female employees remain unmarried; and the changing ideas about beauty, form and function. Like most women of her time, Driscoll rarely received credit for her ideas or her work -- this tension, deeply buried rage, drives the novel. But Clara is not a self-indulgent woman. She keeps her eye on the ball, hones her skills and gets, in her equanimity, a kind of eternal revenge.

Vreeland's writing is so graceful, her research so exhaustive, that a reader is enfolded in the world of Tiffany and Driscoll. There is a great deal of fascinating insight into Beaux Arts glass, furniture and jewelry design, Tiffany's social milieu, the great appeal of the company's work, and the atmosphere for artists and designers in the late 1800s in America.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds,  LA TIMES
-- January 30, 2011

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Women's Work, Rediscovered

Following 2007's Luncheon of the Boating Party, author Susan Vreeland again delves into the lives behind an iconic work of art-this time, the intricate lamps produced by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company at the turn of the 20th century. Long thought to be the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany himself, the famous lamps were discovered in 2005 to have been designed by Clara Driscoll, the head of his studio's remarkable women's department. Clara not only designed what became, for a time, Tiffany's most lucrative line of decorative items, but also grew a fledgling team of six young girls into a crew of female artists 30 strong in the space of a few years. Vreeland's depiction of Clara's world, her accomplishments and her desires in Clara and Mr. Tiffany is movingly delightful.

At the start of the novel, the widowed, 31-year-old Clara returns to Tiffany's employ after two years away. Inspired by her return to the work she loves, Clara conceives the idea for leaded glass lampshades. But while her creativity blooms with the colorful blossoms in her designs, her frustration with Mr. Tiffany, whom she respects and adores, grows as he refuses to publicly acknowledge the roles she and her "Tiffany Girls" play in his artistic and commercial successes. Meanwhile, Clara's longing for love forces her into a difficult choice between career and marriage, since Tiffany will not allow married women to work for him.

Vreeland brings 1890's Manhattan to vibrant life as Clara becomes aware of her young immigrant hires' impoverished home lives and as she grows close to her eccentric boardinghouse neighbors, including the flamboyant George and steadfast Bernard. Vivid descriptions of window and lamp production will surely bring readers a new appreciation for stained glass. And Clara's battles for the rights of her female workers and for artistic originality versus mass production are compelling, as is her complicated relationship with Mr. Tiffany. This charming woman is a memorable heroine and, just as Clara's art enhanced the images of nature that it depicted, Vreeland's illuminating vision of Clara's story is a pleasure to experience.

-- Sheri Bodoh,  BookPage
-- January, 2011

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As she did for a Vermeer painting in Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland traces the secret history of an objet d'art-this time, the iconic Tiffany lamp. Her heroine is Clara Driscoll, head of the all-female glass-cutting department at Tiffany Studios, who designed many of the fanciful, nature-inspired leaded-glass lamps for which Louis Comfort Tiffany earned fame. The real extent of Driscoll's contribution became known only recently, when letters she wrote during her 17-year tenure were made public. Through Driscoll's life, Vreeland offers a fascinating look at turn-of-the-century New York City. The free-thinking Driscoll took it all in; chafing at societal restrictions (Tiffany Studios did not employ married women) while reveling in new freedoms, she rode her bicycle across Manhattan to sketch the dragonflies, wisteria, and daffodils that she then reproduced in shimmering pieces of cut glass that are now on display in museums worldwide. "In Mr. Tiffany's claim to beauty was to make beautiful things, one after another..."

--Sue Corbett,  People
--January 17, 2011

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A novel as sparkling and elegant as a Tiffany lampshade.

Based on a real person, Susan Vreeland's novel about a stained-glass artisan and her years at Tiffany's is a sensitive portrayal of women's struggles in the 19th century.

In an afterword to her latest novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland explains that it was the discovery in 2005 of Clara Driscoll's correspondence that inspired her to write the book. Like her five earlier novels—most notably Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth BlueClara and Mr. Tiffany chronicles the life of a historical figure from the art world. Once again, Vreeland combines her capacious imagination with diligent research to create a compelling portrayal of a person, an era, and a distinct milieu.

The novel opens in 1892. Clara Driscoll, recently widowed, moves from Brooklyn to a boardinghouse in Manhattan, located near Tiffany [Glass and Decorating Company].Clara had been employed there previously, but was forced to resign when she married Francis Driscoll. Married women were simply not welcome in the workplace. Now, Mr. Tiffany is thrilled to have [her] back, and the two resume their remarkably compatible professional relationship.

Vreeland endows Mr. Tiffany with charm and magnetism. “Train yourselves by seeking and acknowledging beauty moment by moment every day of your lives,” he tells his employees. “Take pleasure in the grace of shape and the excitement of color.” Early in the book, Clara suggests to Mr. Tiffany the feasibility of lampshades constructed of colored glass pieces and lead work.

Though at the height of her career at Tiffany's, Clara is managing a sizable department of female glass designers and cutters, it is her work as an artisan that she finds most fulfilling. Continually she struggles to achieve originality and authenticity. Vreeland's account of Clara's creation of the dragonfly motif and her adaptation of it to lamps is fascinating. Clara's personal life, too, provides much interest.

Vreeland's portrayal of the period's unjust treatment of women is certainly one of the book's stronger features. She has captured the tone of an era during which wise and capable women appear to accept without questions their status as second-class citizens. It is this kind of sensitivity that intensifies every aspect of her novel. Indeed, the consistent elegance and vitality of her prose makes reading her book a pleasure.

--February 8, 2011

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Review: 'Clara and Mr.Tiffany' reveals the story behind the Tiffany lamp

Susan Vreeland offers up a beautiful basket of historic threads pulled from the life of Clara Driscoll, a previously unsung artist who labored in the glass studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the jeweler who founded the Tiffany's we know.

If you've ever marveled at a Tiffany lampshade, you've appreciated the art of Mrs. Driscoll but, until 2005, when two separate sets of her letters were released to the world, no one knew much about her. The somewhat weak and troubled Tiffany son of the title took personal credit for the creative work of his studios. Indeed, to the extent that author Vreeland is historically accurate, Tiffany was intimately involved in the creative process, personally directing key artistic decisions of color, shape and composition. He was not, alas, as intimately or effectively involved in key business decisions, which led to what is portrayed as poor labor management (probably standard for its time) and ultimately the bankruptcy of Tiffany Studios, not the jewelers, in 1932.

Vreeland's book encompasses the great Art Nouveau years 1892 to 1908, during which Clara Driscoll drew on a close artistic relationship with Tiffany to develop and run the Studio's "Women's Department." This name established a basis for separate, unequal and inferior treatment in pay, working conditions and respect. Part of Vreeland's novelistic treatment of Clara Driscoll's life centers on her reaction to this inequity.

Once past the interesting history of Mrs. Driscoll's invention of the Tiffany lamp itself and the details of the making, storage, selection, cutting and placement of glass, the most interesting parts of the book, for me, were the background details of life in New York City after the Gilded Age, capturing the early rise of a new middle class.

Clara, for instance, fortunately widowed at 31 from a less-than-happy marriage, is portrayed choosing a boardinghouse with some care. It was important to consider her compatibility with its residents since these would become her de facto family. We are reminded that in a day without refrigeration, convenient cooking or laundering, a single middle-class working person would have found it nearly impossible to live alone. Servants were essential, and a boardinghouse was the only reasonable way to afford them. Each boarder had a sleeping room and other rooms were shared. Clara interviewed the residents of the boardinghouse she selected and vice versa. They discussed the activities in progress at the home. Various residents were teaching others languages and the playing of musical instruments. Plays were read aloud one night a week. Clara chose an "artistic" boardinghouse.

Many other historic strands are woven through the text -- bicycle trips through bucolic Manhattan and across the stunning new Brooklyn Bridge; an inaugural trip to the farthest point on the brand-new subway -- Central Park.

"Clara and Mr. Tiffany" is a pleasant and expansive view of a slower and, for some, beautiful time, with a vicious, impoverished underside, both of which are important to know and remember.

--January 28, 2011

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