Saturday, May 27, 2006
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier [May/06]
This is one of those historical fiction novels that many people have read and loved, so I felt that it was about time that I took the time to read it. I own two other Chevalier novels, Falling Angels and The Lady and the Unicorn, but this is the one I decided to read first. It seemed only fitting after reading Susan Vreeland's novel earlier this month, as both novels follow a painting by Vermeer. Not the same painting, of course, but the same artist.
Taking place in the 1660's, Griet's father has lost the use of his eyes in an explosion and has been unable to work since. With no money coming in, the family is forced to look for employment for their oldest daughter. This comes in the shape of as a housekeeper for the painter Vermeer and his family. Very strict about how his workshop is kept, they are looking for a woman that can make the room look like it wasn't touched. Griet is used to that living with her father, because since he is blind she is always leaving things in certain places so he can easily locate them.
With this job comes a whole new life for the young woman. She is treated harshly by many of the family members, and has to learn to defend herself to keep her position at the house. Vermeer likes her, though. He has little to say to her at first, but in one brave moment she adjusts a prop set up for one of his paintings, an adjustment that he agrees with. Suddenly Griet is helping him create his paint, sitting in for patrons that are not available on particular days, and gaining the respect of a world-class painter. She also catches the eye of one of Vermeer's seductress patrons and before she knows it, she is being painted.
The oppurtunity could be a glamorous one, but Griet has a good head on her shoulders. When Vermeer tries to make her look like something she is not, she refuses and demands that housekeepers do not wear fancy clothes and strike fancy poses. As a result, he paints a simple woman, with the only added adornment a pair of pearl earrings. Earrings that lead to the hatred of the family getting to her, and ultimately causing her to leave her position and get married instead. But, for a time, she was considered Vermeer's muse. He did not paint a lot of paintings, but with her help he was painting quicker and created a world class piece of art. Even if he was one of those artists only really appreciated after he was dead.
I liked this novel. It was not a complicated read, but it was interesting to see the 1660's through the eyes of a housekeeper in the employment of Vermeer. It also takes place in Holland, a place that is not touched as much by novels, so you get to experience what life was like in this time and place. I think that Chevalier is a worth-while author to get interested in, and look forward to reading the other two novels I have by her.