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Girl With a Pearl Earring: A Novel Paperback – Jan 18 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reissue edition (Jan. 18 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452282152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452282155
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (670 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer's extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries--and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer's prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel's quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant--and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. Chevalier vividly evokes the complex domestic tensions of the household, ruled over by the painter's jealous, eternally pregnant wife and his taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic. Still, Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist.

Throughout, Chevalier cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style, whose exactitude is an effective homage to the painter himself. Even Griet's most humdrum duties take on a high if unobtrusive gloss:

I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary--bones, white lead, madder, massicot--to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
In assembling such quotidian particulars, the author acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study The Embarrassment of Riches. Her novel also joins a crop of recent, painterly fictions, including Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever and Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Can novelists extract much more from the Dutch golden age? The question is an open one--but in the meantime, Girl with a Pearl Earring remains a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, and an appealingly new take on an old master. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Brown on July 15 2005
Format: Audio CD
I just finished listening to the novel on CD read by Jenna Lamia. Avoid it. The reader tries to put on accents for every different character and fails horribly. Her accent for Vermeer is most ridiculous of all and it takes away from the novel terribly. The only well created accent is Griet's; that's not a compliment considering the many characters in this excellent novel. Read the book but avoid this particular CD version.
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By Robin on July 15 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is about the economics of art as a commodity in a historical society in which it was exactly that. The point is that every society sees the art produced in its own time as a commodity, and usually not a very valuable one at that. The 21st century is the same as the 17th in this regard. However, we do not know which of our commodities will be the art form of a future age.Neither did they.
Vermeer painted to live: whether he also lived to paint is the question. Exactly the question the book asks us to think about. His family depend upon him painting and upon patrons buying and commissioning his work. As a result, everyone is paying. And the symbol of all the payments is the pearl earring. Vermeer trades something to get it into the painting, where we think it should be, but then we are unaware of any paintings of the same girl without a pearl earring. His mother in law pays with treachery. His wife pays with suffering. And the girl pays with personal obscurity, and everlasting fame.
And only we benefit.
Makes you think, doesn't it?
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Format: Paperback
I did like the writting style used. It was clear, simple and it seemed to me as if it was really clean, if that makes any sense. It was an easy, almost straight to the point story that kept me entertained. I think there were some deep metaphors that passed me by though. I liked most of the characters but would have liked it better if they were given some more depth.
However, I can see how some people would not like this book. Not alot really happens and I imagin (though I haven't seen it) that the film version is rather slow and boring. As I read it in a day I dont think I had time to get bored with it. The characters are not particluary memerable and some seem very flat at times. It's supposed to be a book about passion but I didn't feel much between any of the characters. Although Griet may have felt it for her master, until he left her the earrings at the end I don't think I felt anything at all from him though out the whole book, and as a result I didn't care about this character. I don't know anything about the real Vermeer so I have no idea if he acted anything like he did in the story.
Despite it's faults I did really enjoy this book and as long as your someone who can relex and read something that's not packed full of action I think you'll probably enjoy it too.
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By A Customer on July 2 2004
Format: Paperback
I have just finished listening to the unabridged audio version of Girl with a Pearl Earring. It is narrated by Ruth Ann Phimister. As I listened to the novel, I was very emotionally involved with Griet. I felt her happiness, her sadness, her reluctance, her longings. But one has to remember that a Protestant in her times, especially a young girl, was meant to be reserved and to hold back her deepest desires. I think that is why Tracy Chevalier wrote as she did. The tone also echos the fact that Vermeer is very poor at showing his own emotions.
I loved this book! In fact, it is hard for me right now to go on to another book. I want to stay in Griet's world--I don't want to leave her. I think that is what a good book is supposed to do for a reader. In additon, it made me curious about Vermeer's life. Oh, I knew his paintings, but I wanted more. What was the real Vermeer like? I have searched out his biography and marveled at how Chevalier intertwined fact with fiction.
Perhaps my feelings for this story are because I listened to the audio version of this book. Ms. Phimister is a master at narration and is truly able to place the reader into the character of Griet. In any event, this book will always remain one of my all time favorites!
This review refers to the unabridged audiocassette edition.
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Format: Paperback
In her novel, 'Girl With a Pearl Earring', Tracy Chevalier gives clever voice and life to the enigmatic subject of Johannes Vermeer's incomparable oil painting of the same name. For protestant Griet, just 16 years old and forced into service as a maid due to her family's poverty, the very Catholic household of the famous Delft artist bears little ressemblance to her life as the daughter of a tile painter. Although assailed by mountains of laundry and other monotonous and never-ending kitchen duties, she nevertheless has the acute perception of an artist's daughter to notice the odd dynamics that bind the inhabitants of the household together as deftly as Vermeer's brushwork depicts the light shining on the face of one of his models. "He" as Griet awefully refers to Vermeer, lives only for his painting; his mother-in-law agrees to any of his whims to insure a faster end-product with happier patrons and hence more revenue to keep the household from slipping into financial ruin. His wife, Katerina, desperately wants to be a part of the world Vermeer sees with his painter's eye; she smoulders pettishly when she realizes that Griet is admitted into his world wordlessly as Vermeer recognizes something within Griet that defines her as a kindred spirit.

Chevalier fills the novel with the tasks of an everyday Delft so real, one marvels at the magnificence of her invention. Her simple concentration on Griet's cleanliness; the whitness of her cap, the studied way in which she wears it with the two ties hanging on either side of her face to hide her expression, reminds us of the Biblical maxim "Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
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