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Girl with a pearl earring
1999
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Awards
2000 - Orange Prize for Fiction nominee (Long list)
Characters
Griet (Female), Maid, Protestant
Johannes Vermeer (Male), Artist, Married, Father, Catholic, Painter
Catharina Vermeer (Female), Married, Mother, Emotionally unstable
Genre
Historical
Domestic
Sociological
Cinematization
Fiction
Topics
Social classes
Class conflict
Artists
Catholic-Protestant conflict
Family relationships
Setting
Delft, Netherlands - Europe
Time Period
1664 -- 17th century
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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

Set in 17th-century Delft, this historical novel intertwines the art of Johannes Vermeer with his life and that of a maiden servant in his household. From the few facts known about the artist, Chevalier creates the reality of the Netherlands. The parallel themes of tradesman/artist, Protestant/Catholic, and master/servant are intricately woven into the fabric of the tale. The painters of the day spent long hours in the studio, devising and painting re-creations of everyday life. The thrust of the story is seen through the eyes of Griet, the daughter of a Delft tile maker who lost his sight and, with it, the ability to support his family. Griet's fate is to be hired out as a servant to the Vermeer household. She has a wonderful sense of color, composition, and orderliness that the painter Vermeer recognizes. And, slowly, Vermeer entrusts much of the labor of creating the colored paints to Griet. Throughout, narrator Ruth Ann Phimister gives a strong performance as the enchanting voice of Griet. Highly recommended. Kristin M. Jacobi, Eastern Connecticut State Univ., Willimantic (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

The scant confirmed facts about the life of Vermeer, and the relative paucity of his masterworks, continues to be provoke to the literary imagination, as witnessed by this third fine fictional work on the Dutch artist in the space of 13 months. Not as erotic or as deviously suspenseful as Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson, or as original in conception as Susan Vreeland's interlinked short stories, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Chevalier's first novel succeeds on its own merits. Through the eyes of its protagonist, the modest daughter of a tile maker who in 1664 is forced to work as a maid in the Vermeer household because her father has gone blind, Chevalier presents a marvelously textured picture of 17th-century Delft. The physical appearance of the city is clearly delineated, as is its rigidly defined class system, the grinding poverty of the working people and the prejudice against Catholics among the Protestant majority. From the very first, 16-year-old narrator Griet establishes herself as a keen observer who sees the world in sensuous images, expressed in precise and luminous prose. Through her vision, the personalities of coolly distant Vermeer, his emotionally volatile wife, Catharina, his sharp-eyed and benevolently powerful mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and his increasing brood of children are traced with subtle shading, and the strains and jealousies within the household potently conveyed. With equal skill, Chevalier describes the components of a painting: how colors are mixed from apothecary materials, how the composition of a work is achieved with painstaking care. She also excels in conveying the inflexible class system, making it clear that to members of the wealthy elite, every member of the servant class is expendable. Griet is almost ruined when Vermeer, impressed by her instinctive grasp of color and composition, secretly makes her his assistant, and later demands that she pose for him wearing Catharina's pearl earrings. While Chevalier develops the tension of this situation with skill, several other devices threaten to rob the narrative of its credibility. Griet's ability to suggest to Vermeer how to improve a painting demands one stretch of the reader's imagination. And Vermeer's acknowledgment of his debt to her, revealed in the denouement, is a blatant nod to sentimentality. Still, this is a completely absorbing story with enough historical authenticity and artistic intuition to mark Chevalier as a talented newcomer to the literary scene. Agent, Deborah Schneider. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Summary
In seventeenth-century Delft, there's a strict social order -rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant -and all know their place. When Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry, and the care of his six children. She even feels able to handle his shrewd mother-in-law; his restless, sensual wife; and their jealous servant. What no one expects is that Griet's quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into his world. Their growing intimacy sparks whispers; and when Vermeer paints her wearing his wife's pearl earrings, the gossip escalates into a full-blown scandal that irrevocably changes Griet's life.Written with the precision and focus of an Old Master painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a vivid portrait of colorful seventeenth-century Delft, as well as the hauntingly poignant story of one young girl's rite of passage.
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