I love reading books that are a great story and also tell me about a time or thing I never really thought to know more about and yet once learned about was so obviously missing from my knowledge base. Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland, delivers just that; it is a great story about a strong woman at the turn of the 20th century and it is also a historical picture of New York at the time as well as a detailed lesson in the art of glass. Clara Driscoll was a real person who worked for Tiffany and Glass as a designer and glass worker. Through researching Clara’s personal letters and other documentation of the age, the author has put together a story that may have happened to these real people, working an imagined personal life around the known facts.
As much change as we have seen in the past 10 to 15 years, I’m not sure it can compare to the changes that were seen at the turn of the past century. From horse carriages to subways, from oil lamps to electric lights, from Victorian design to a new esthetic. And yet also, some things have not changed as much as we would like to think, basic human equality, freedom to love and be loved by whom we chose and not be restricted by that in where we go or work or what we do.
The book is dripping with names of famous people who helped shape New York, and the western world of the 20th century, with their wealth, or art, or words. But there is also attention paid to the immigrants, to the poor and to the working masses.
I liked the little details, things like women getting to wear swimming costumes for the first time, and being able to rent them at the seaside. Or what the residents of the city thought of the Statue of Liberty. Or people learning to ride bikes as adults for the first time.
While the writing wasn’t stunning (although it was solid and well-written), the story itself was. A delightful piece of history.