Desert Isle Keeper
The Tiffany Girls
A lovely, muscular novel that takes a look at life in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s workshop during its late 1800s heyday, The Tiffany Girls finally gives a voice to the unsung designers and artists who helped put together the glass king’s most famous pieces.
Responsible widow Clara Walcott Driscoll is running the women’s division of Tiffany’s New York Glass company in 1899 when the whole team is put to task making an enormous stained glass chandelier, to be shown at the upcoming World’s Fair. The design is an enormous task that will require a number of hands, and she’s losing glass cutters at an alarming speed. She doesn’t know that the design she’s been working on, a dragonfly lamp, will soon make the shop’s name.
The working hands left include the pair belonging to Grace Griffiths, a copyist who begins to tune in to feminist thoughts while attending speeches by Emma Goldman. A budding cartoonist, Grace is highly skilled and constantly getting into scrapes. Eventually, she takes on a double life as a political cartoonist working under the name G.L. Griffith.
Emilie Pascal is the daughter of an abusive art forger who had a position at an exclusive art Academy. She reveals her father’s lies, but confessing the truth places her own skills in question when her father abandons her, leaving her to bear the brunt of his shame. Since women are not accepted at the academy, the resultant scandal means she is forced to give up her dreams, her connection to her family’s life as well as living in France. Emilie learns the art of stained glass on the boat to America. At the Tiffany office, she’s hoping to start over and make a new life for herself – thanks to a forged letter of recommendation.
An impressed Clara sees Emilie’s designs when she faints at her interview and thinks they might have the potential to pull them out of their production troubles. Living in the same boarding house, Emilie and Grace soon become close. The lives of all three women become interlaced as work for the World’s Fair pieces commences and each of them enters into history in her own unique way. But can Clara keep her staff of unruly young women away from the boys and on-task? Can Emilie conceal her secret past? And can Grace protect her double identity?
Tiffany Girls does an excellent job of portraying the era as it was and the people in it as they were. There are a lot of harrowing situations in the book, but (most of) the girls survive them with strength and determination. And the book doesn’t hesitate to draw a connecting line between Tammany Hall politics and the ones we grapple with to this day.
The book introduces a variety of lively Tiffany co-workers, and sometimes they absorb a little bit too much of the plot. Two sisters – one who is developmentally delayed and is manipulated by a factory worker into a romance and her long-suffering younger sister, in a storyline that has little respect for the woman’s agency and uses her as a symbol – take up a lot of the attention and drive a lot of the plot at the midpoint. I’d rather the high amount of plot already extant in the book had pushed its story forward, but instead a lot of the drama revolves around these supporting characters. I truly adored spending time at the boarding house, though, and loved the no-nonsense Mrs. B, who gives support and help and good food to all of the ladies living there.
Clara and Grace’s stories were fascinating to me in particular, and I really loved fiery Grace and her quest for justice and fairness. The romances in the book are less than enthralling, Grace’s slap-slap-kiss-kiss relationship with a fellow journalist in particular. What’s satisfying here are the friendships, the feminism, and the art. The Tiffany Girls is a heartfelt drama that deserves every plaudit it gets.
Note: This book contains details of a very bloody on-page depiction of a botched back alley abortion, and awkward treatment of a developmentally delayed person.
Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
|Review Date:||May 9, 2023|
|Book Type:||Historical Fiction | Women's Fiction|
|Review Tags:||artist | Gilded Age | New York City | widow|
The cover is striking and caught my attention. I look forward to reading this one.
Hope you like it!