The Story of Girl Encounter with Genius in Girl with a Pearl Earring

Tracy Chevalier transports readers to a bygone time and place in this richly-imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings.

History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening.
Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius . . . even as she herself is immortalized in canvas and oil.

This is the kind of first novel many serious writers ache to produce. Chevalier effectively takes us away from the hustle and noise of the 21st Century--the omnipresent cell phones, the whirring faxes, the beeping answering machines--into a world rich in silence and texture. Practically from the beginning the reader will find herself unconsciously relaxing as Chevalier quickly brings 17th Century Delft to life: the silence of darkened rooms, the crackle from a kitchen fireplace, the muffled sounds of feet moving swiftly up stone stairs.

There are many surprising little incidents and twists to the story. This was a vivid and beautifully written tale that immerses you in the life of 17th century Delft.

The heroine, Griet, is an intelligent 16 year old who, because of a family tragedy, is ripped from her poor but closely knit family to work as a maid for artist Johannes Vermeer's household. Unlike her own home's rather straightforward traumas (how to survive now that her father, a tilemaker, has been blinded in an industrial accident), the superficially quiet Vermeer household seethes with jealously, turmoil, intrigue and secrets. Griet comes as a maid, but she evolves into a painter's assistant and, ultimately, muse--a transformation that changes the direction she may otherwise have chosen for herself.

Chevalier brilliantly and persuasively describes the rigor and tedium required to maintain a 17th Century home; just reading through Griet's daily workload is enough to make one want to take a nap. The divison between server and served, the fine line Griet must walk to please her insecure new mistress and her perfidious children, make modern sensibilities bridle. Life, as John Kennedy liked to observe, is not fair. And as this book matter of factly points out, it was even less so before democracy's leavening influence.

This novel is erotic too, but in a 17th century demure sort of way. Griet, we learn, is loath to let her full head of hair be seen by any man and she would never been seen with her lips held open. When she is intruded upon with her long mane of hair freely unfurled the reader's heart flutters and it must have for the young girl. And when she moistens her lips and holds them open at the request of the portrait painter Vermeer we are absolutely aghast and tingling with erotic excitement.

Chevalier also weaves details from Vermeer's paintings into her story of Griet. The result is a book that is vibrantly alive and lustrously rich. It is an education in art history for those who would otherwise let it pass them by. A tapestry of beauty that pulls the reader in from beginning to end, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a fascinating story and a fascinating look at life in Renaissance Delft that will reward anyone who reads it.