Book Review of Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring
reviewed on + 6 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 18

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.