We’ve just bid farewell to October — which made me think of a simply charming romance novel that takes place during the Chicago World’s Fair, which lasted over a year and ended at the end of October, 1893.
Deeanne Gist’s Tiffany Girl revolves around the glassworkers’ strike that threatened Louis Comfort Tiffany’s commitment to provide stained glass for the Fair’s chapel. Rather than capitulating to the workers’ terms, Tiffany hired women to do most of the staging, which included almost every step of the process (including cutting the glass) before soldering — a job considered ‘mannish.’
The book follows Flossie, a young Tiffany Girl just spreading wings of independence at a time when such things were frowned upon; and Reeve, a journalist who tells himself he disapproves of everything about Flossie, but winds up falling under her spell anyway.
Gist does an amazing job of telling a complex love story against a backdrop of social and personal change; Flossie starts out in her parents’ home, practically a slave to her father’s gambling, as she and her mother sew morning to night to try to make enough to overcome his losses. Flossie’s one pleasure is art — and she’s outraged when her father’s losses force her to abandon her studies. But a chance meeting with Louis Comfort Tiffany at her last class lands her a job with his glass company, and she leaves home for a boarding house, much to her parents’ chagrin.
Flossie is a fascinating character; she’s determined to make her own way in the world, but convinced it’s a benevolent place where people ought to like each other. She starts out as likable yet immature, then grows into a stronger, more seasoned version of herself — an interesting juxtaposition against Reeve’s growing understanding that his ideas about New Girls — modern working women — are flawed and simplistic.