Beautiful story about a beautiful work of art, March 18, 2007
Reviewer: Jeanne Tassotto (Trapped in the Midwest)
This is for anyone who has ever wandered through a museum and wondered about the people whose images are displayed there. Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring gazes at the viewer over her shoulder as if she had been interrupted on her way to someplace else. She is a young woman, her head wrapped in an improbable manner with richly colored cloth, not at all the typical style of the day. She has no other ornaments or signs of wealth other than a large pearl earring. The background of the painting is blocked out, as if she were standing just outside of a gaping void leaving the viewer to focus on her large dark eyes and single jewel. There are few historical records of Vermeer's life and no information on the identity of his young model.
Chevalier has taken the inspiration of this painting to tell a story of young Griet whose family had been comfortably well off until her father was blinded at work. Now it was up to Griet to provide for her family, at least until her brother completed his apprenticeship. Griet was sent to work as a made for the ever expanding household of the painter Jan Vermeer.
The reader is shown Dutch society and the city of Delft through the eyes of 16 year old Griet. She misses the happier days of her childhood with her brother and sister and fears her future. As a young woman of the lower middle class she knows that her best hope for the future, her only hope for a respectable future, is to marry well. She is also quite aware that working as a maid has drastically lowered her status in the community and made her prospects for a good marriage unlikely. Added to these worries are the ones unique problems of the Vermeer household, the power struggles among Vermeer, his wife and mother-in-law, the need to please a difficult patron and the ever increasing size of the household. Chevalier has done a masterful job bringing the various characters to life. This would be an excellent book to assign to high school or lower level college students, either in literature classes or as a supplement to history courses. Chavlier, through Griet, give the reader an idea of the challenges facing a young woman growing up in a society that offered few opportunities to women.
I let this book sit on my bookshelf for months, not sure why I bought it in the first place. One desperate evening, when I had nothing else to read, I broke down and cracked it open. And I am SO glad I did! This author has an amazing talent for bringing very old history to life. Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings. I'm now hooked on this author!
I read this book on a camping trip with my family and it was perfect. The characters were very real and I was able to relate to each of them, their positions and points of view. The manner in which the characters were woven together was intriguing and interesting. A delightful book.
Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings.
In contrast to her work in her master's studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household run by Vermeer's volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year-old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.
On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer's patron, the wealthy van Ruijven. And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death.
As Griet becomes part of her master's work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even - as the scandal seeps out - ripples in the world beyond.
I've decided that one of my life's goals is to see every Vermeer painting in person. So far I've only seen The Concert, at the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, many years ago, before it was stolen in the largest, and still unsolved, art heist in history.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictionalized account of the how this painting, called the Mona Liza of the North, came to be made. This is an erotic novel with NO overt eroticism. You can feel the unrequited passion between Vermeer and his beautiful servant girl, who reluctantly becomes the subject of the painting. The movie is good, the book is WAY better.