Title: Girl with a Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Historical Fiction, Art, Romance
First Publication: 2000
Major Characters: Johannes Vermeer, Griet, Pieter van Ruijven, Catharina Bolnes, Maria Thins, Tanneke, Pieter (Girl with a pearl earring), Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
Setting Place: Delft, 1664 (Netherlands)
Theme: Envy, Religion, Desire, Creativity, Work, Class and Power
Narrator: First Person by a sixteen-year-old girl named Griet
Book Summary: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer’s extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries – and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier’s second novel of the same title.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier centers on Vermeer’s prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel’s quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant–and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model.
Book Review: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is a sharp, sensitive and absorbing novel of 17th century Netherlands, combining history art and fiction. The remarkable author Tracey Chevalier fleshes out and embellishes the story who the girl in the painting by Johannes Vermeer could be.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is about Griet, who, at the age of sixteen, becomes a maid at the Vermeers’ to provide financial support to her family after her father has an accident at his workplace and is no longer able to work and support his family. Mr. Vermeer is an artist and doesn’t like his studio to be messed with. One of Griet’s jobs is to clean his studio and meticulously place the things back where they were initially. Soon Griet starts helping Vermeer in making paints and modelling for his painting which strains his relationship with his wife.
“He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.”
Griet is wooed by Pieter, the handsome son of the local butcher, while Griet’s parents worry she is losing her soul in the ostentatious Vermeer household. Griet’s sister dies of the plague, and things grow more difficult for Griet, in her place of work, and in the circumstances of her family.
But the novel reaches its climax when Vermeer coerces Griet into being the model for one of his most ambitious works. Things spin out of control though for Griet there will be happy ending.
Heartwarming, in parts amusing, a fable of self and disparate components, and hope and despair. A sterling piece of literature from a master novelist.
“You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes.”
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is written in the first person from Griet’s point of view, as a semi-illiterate girl in a small town. I was drawn in by her descriptions of Delft, famous for its painted tiles; the pealing of the bells of the New Church visible from the window in the studio; the movement of goods by canal and hand cart, the windmills, the streets and houses and the star with the points in the market square.
The reader is given descriptions of the clothing – Griet always wears a starched white cap to cover her hair – and the grandmother Maria Thins smokes a pipe. But it is in the detail of how Vermeer painted that really caught my attention. There is an unspoken chemistry between the artist and his subject, but Griet knows that once the painting is complete, accusations will fly and her days with the household will be over.
“I wanted to wear the mantle and the pearls. I wanted to know the man who painted her like that.”
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier ends ten years later in 1676. Griet has married the butcher’s son and born him two sons. Both the odious Van Ruijven and Vermeer have passed away and Griet is called to the house where his widow and the younger of the surviving 11 children live in reduced circumstances. There is a brief mention of a war that led to the family’s decline (the Dutch-French war 1672-78 when King Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands) by the wife who carries her hatred of Griet.