“Is it really possible to detect talent in fourteen-year-old children?” Bernard asked.
“Yes, but it’s rarely possible to predict whether the divine spark will keep burning with enough steadiness to survive the world.” From “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland.
Our summer reading menu has been a bit paltry thus far, I’ll admit. Who has time to read with all the traveling we’ve been doing? It’s been especially hard since the kids and I do some of it by listening to books on tape in the car, and we haven’t been doing much driving these days. There’s been a lot of flying, but little driving. In fact, we’ve been listening to the same two books for over a month now, and that is unusual for us. Ordinarily, we finish them quickly. We can’t stand not to, even if that means sitting in the car in the driveway while the neighbors wonder about our sanity.
But one of the books that I have managed to read this summer stands out. This book spoke to me in such a way that I can’t bring myself to return it to the library yet; it feels like I will be losing a friend when I do so. The overdue fines are racking up along with the guilt at being a book hog; this unwillingness to return it isn’t coming from a logical place, I assure you. Since I’m finally writing down what it meant to me, though, I should be able to let go soon. Maybe today…
In any case, the book is called “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland. It’s historical fiction, which is a favorite genre of mine. The author has done an excellent of job of fleshing out the characters, so much so that I really did feel like they had become my friends by the end of the book.
The book is about the history of the Tiffany Glass Co., but from the viewpoint of one of the women artists who worked for the company back at the turn of the last century. What a beautiful perspective it offers on so many aspects of New York in the late 1800s: the plight of immigrants, the difficulties faced by women, in particular single women who needed to support themselves. A main point of the book is in fact the main character Clara Driscoll’s singleness; a Tiffany company policy doesn’t allow women to work once they are married. Early in the story, Clara marries, leaves the company, and then comes back a short time later after the death of her husband. She is an artist, and finds so much fulfillment in the work that she pleads for her job again so that she can go back to doing what she loves. I find it hard to imagine a time when a woman would have to choose either marrying or continuing to have a career. Oh, wait, maybe I can imagine it…
But I digress. In the end, the choice in many ways is made for her. I won’t spoil the book, but when the man she has been friends with for years finally admits his feelings for her, she describes it thus:
“Breathless and half frightened at the prospects, I glimpsed my larger self shining in his eyes, and I loved him for showing it to me.”
Isn’t that what we all want, even if we don’t realize it? Someone, friend or lover, to show us the best in us, our larger selves? And yet, for someone who has kept the divine spark of artistic talent glowing within herself, what a terrible thing to be forced to give up. Ah, the beautiful dilemma of it!
Okay, now that I’ve shared about the pleasure that this incredible book gave to me, I feel better. I think I can now quit being a library delinquent and finally give it back so that others can enjoy it as well. If you live near me, here in Atlanta, Georgia, go check it out at once.
I just happen to know of a copy that will be available later this week.
Vreeland, S. (2012). Clara and Mr. Tiffany. New York: Random House.
PS- I did finally return it and pay my overdue fines on all our books from this summer. It was an all-time high $8.50 for me, but my debts are now paid. I can sleep at night. But I probably should have just bought a copy of it!