Tracy Chevalier wrote her novel, set in Holland in the 1660’s, about a famous painting by Johannes Vermeer, known as The Girl With a Pearl Earring. Not much is known about either Vermeer or the actual girl in the painting. Vermeer did not use full signatures or put dates on all of his paintings. Chevalier constructed this narrative as told though the eyes of Griet, a young women who, due to unforeseen circumstances, has to go to work as a maid in anther family’s home, the Vermeer’s home.
The Vermeer family lives on the opposite side of town from Griet’s family in a largely Catholic area. Not being Catholic, Griet fears coming into this house due to the consequences it may have for her own faith. This strange home with its many religious paintings in almost every room has a strangely uplifting effect on her. Vermeer is an up-and-coming artist who paints privately in his upstairs studio for a single patron. He works prodigiously on just one painting at a time, leaving his very pregnant wife to have the entire care of the home as well as their five children.
Griet is mainly brought in to clean the artist’s studio, as well as helping with the laundry. As the story progresses, Vermeer takes Griet into his painting world, where prior to this time he had let no one else enter. She helps him mix the colors that he will use, and in the process she becomes incredibly adept at the job. During the 1660’s the process of making paint was hard, tedious work. It required a great deal of time and patience to produce the desired results.
Griet is a quiet, shy girl, who is unsure about who she is. On the cusp of adult hood and being married, she falls in love with Vermeer and wants to spend her time in his painting world.
The relationship between Vermeer and Griet grows and develops. She understands the way he see the world, and begins to provide subtle hints to encourage him. Vermeer values her for that special insight. Neither one of them ever vocalizes their true feelings about each other, but the way Chevalier weaves the plot, you are soon made aware of these feelings. In time both Vermeer and Griet go on to live their separate lives, but the relationship leaves a lasting effect on each of them.
This book is a quiet, leisurely read, though not ever sluggish or boring in the least. I thoroughly enjoy Chevalier’s writing style. She has proven to me to be an extremely talented story teller. I anxiously await her next book; for historical novels are a grand glimpse into the window of the past.