Title: Girl with a Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Format Read: Paperback
This is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Set in 17th century Holland, the novel follows Griet, a girl who receives a couple of surprise visitors one day. She is, she is told by her mother, to work as a maid for a certain painter, and the painter and his wife have come to see her. The wife is a little short of temper, pregnant, and difficult. The painter notices that Griet arranges vegetables for her soup in a methodical fashion, and asks her about it, much to her surprise.
That painter is, of course, Johannes Vermeer.
Griet learns to work at his household that is full of children with more on the way. She learns how to deal with the older housekeeper, Tanneke. She meets the formidable mother of Catharina, Vermeer’s wife. She learns how to clean Vermeer’s studio without making it seem that she’s been in there at all.
And then she becomes a part of Vermeer’s world and the subject of a painting of a girl with a pearl earring.
Griet and the events surrounding her employment at the painter’s household are fictitious, but Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fascinating novel. The historical world of the Delft is brought to life in simple prose without the ponderous verbiage that sometimes accompanies historical fiction novels. Griet comes across as impetuous yet courteous, curious without being overbearing, and is a well-drawn out character. It is easy to sympathise with her as she navigates this new world of art and the painter’s peculiar attention to her. Vermeer himself is rarely named, and simply alluded to by Griet as ‘he.’ Which is, actually, an interesting way of referring to him. Naturally, Catharina is impatient with her, Tanneke is annoyed and a little jealous, Maria Thins (Catharina’s mother) does not know what to do with her. And then there’s Vermeer’s daughter Cornelia, who, despite her youth at the beginning, manages to get Griet into all sorts of trouble.
There are also some other…problems that Griet must learn to deal with. Uncomfortable problems, like van Ruijven, Vermeer’s patron. Griet is just a maid, now, isn’t she? And thus, van Ruijven thinks he can take liberties with her, putting her in a perilous situation, considering her station and his influence.
I thought this a very interesting novel indeed.