REVIEW: Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist
As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—is left without a staff when glassworkers go on strike just months before the unveiling of Tiffany’s hyped mosaic chapel at the Fair’s grand opening. Desperate and without another option, Tiffany turns to a group of female art students to finish the job. Flossie Jayne answers the call, moving into a New York City boardinghouse with high hopes of making a name for herself as an artist and defying those who say the work can’t be completed in time—least of all by a set of young, inexperienced women. As she flouts polite society’s restrictions on females and becomes a Tiffany Girl, her ambitions are threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?
Dear Ms. Gist,
I’ve wanted to read one of your books for ages – ever since I saw some wonderful reviews at Wendy’s site “The Misadventures of Super Librarian.” The length of time it took me was due to hesitation at which one to pick. When DA was offered a chance to try your latest one, it was A Sign that I wasn’t going to miss out on.
This is a historical which has a short section at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago but most of the action takes place in NYC. It’s got good period detail, realistic conflict and a believable resolution of that. I liked the characters and never felt I was being bashed with the God stick. Let’s get to some details.
Flossie’s world revolves around her art. She wants to take more classes, hone her talent and one day see her paintings hung in galleries and – her secret dream – the White House. Her parents have sacrificed to help her achieve her goals which for her mother, a talented seamstress, and her father, a well established barber, have meant even more hard work. But they are old fashioned in their views and are horrified when she accepts an offer to work at the Tiffany Glass Company which will also cause her to move out to be closer to work.
At first I want to hate Flossie’s father – for demanding she leave school to help her mother sew, hand over to him the money she’d earned and not leave home – and her mother – for falling right into the “men know best” mind frame. But they seem to be doing this out of true concern for Flossie’s safety and future as they understand it. I can argue against what they’re insisting on but not against their efforts to protect Flossie as they knew protection. Flossie, however, will not be dissuaded from becoming a New Woman. Oh, pearl clutching!
Reeve Wilder is annoyed at the new addition to the boarding house especially since she’ll be living next door to his room. He immediately likens Flossie to a chattering magpie who will not shut up and her efforts to get the boarders to mingle and interact more don’t sit well with his solitary nature. She’s also one of these New Women who are moving into the work place and out of the sphere where their talents best lie – homemaking and raising the children – and as a reporter covering the strike at the glassworks that lead to the women being hired, he can see the irony of them taking the jobs of men trying to provide for families. Still watching the harassment to which they’re initially subjected by the strikers doesn’t sit well with him.
I loved the information on boarding house living, working at Tiffany and NYC life in the 1890s. Some of the Tiffany stuff came within shouting distance of TMI but I didn’t think it ever collided with info dumping. The illustrations were a nice addition and I enjoyed the details on the fashions of the day as described in Flossie’s extensive wardrobe provided by her mother’s talents.
Flossie and the other Tiffany Girls soon learn that not everyone is excited at them working there. In addition to the strikers, many of the women face daily sexual harassment on the streetcars in the form of bustle pinchers and men who will press against them and say lewd things. They also make only a fraction of what the men would earn, can’t be married and wonder if they’ll still have jobs when and if the strike is settled.
The characters don’t sound like 21st century people in Gibson Girl up-do’s or starched collars. Some will no doubt be annoying in their beliefs that all money should go to the male head of the house, that women’s crowing glory and societal contributions are as wives and mothers, and that women shouldn’t work outside the home. But on the whole, I think there was a balanced portrayal of the established views vs the New Women. No one – aside from the bustle pinchers and strikers – is all bad and we still have those a–holes today. Even older women arguing against these new fangled ideas had their reasons. Flossie’s actions don’t take the form of banner waving or bustle burning. She merely wants the simple, basic right to work, further her education and keep the money she earned.
Flossie might be an attractive woman and used to being the center of her parent’s world but thank you for not making her “Super Tiffany Girl.” She starts the book with innocent enthusiasm but I could see her growth, especially after she realizes that it’s okay to be average. Is her self realization a poke at our modern “everyone’s a winner” practices? By the end, she’d lost the starry eyes and become a real adult. Reeve also changes dramatically but believably. He came to see what women wanted and to argue their side in news print. Flossie isn’t the only one to push this along but she plays a large part in it. Reeve never comes off as a He-Man and he loves his cat. I like that they can discuss and debate these issues without too much drama.
These two are given time and space to work through their issues and conflicts. She gets her own agency back through her jobs and hard work and he gains friends and social contacts by his own efforts. They’re ready when they get back together to forge a long term relationship. Flossie seemed to have given up working at Tiffanys but will still paint which is her love. The ending isn’t espousing a militant change for women which anyway was a few years in the future. But Flossie stood up for herself and changed some minds and opinions.
For people wanting to know, I’d say this is a fairly “clean” and “sweet” book. There is one scene of some – for the time – heated kisses and later an inference of what Flossie and Reeve plan to do in the hours between their wedding reception and the train departure for their honeymoon but there’s no sex. Christian faith is only mentioned in reference to the YMCA Bible studies Reeve planned to take part in, the fact that the main characters talk about going to church and in Flossie’s awe at the overwhelming emotion she feels while visiting the finished Tiffany Chapel at the Fair.
Oh, also thanks for the Author’s Notes at the end of the book. I plan to see if I can find some pictures of the Chapel and am fascinated by the real women portrayed in the story. Now having finished one of your books, I’ll be on the lookout for more and start the process of deciding which previous ones to try and pick up. B