Girl With a Pearl Earring

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9780006513209: Girl With a Pearl Earring

A brilliant historical novel on the corruption of innocence, using the famous painting by Vermeer as an inspiration.

Griet, the young daughter of a tilemaker in seventeeth century Holland, obtains her first job, as a servant in Vermeer’s household. Tracy Chevalier shows us, through Griet’s eyes, the complicated family, the society of the small town of Delft, and life with an obsessive genius. Griet loves being drawn into his artistic life, and leaving her former drudgery, but the cost to her own survival may be high.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring

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The Dutch painter Vermeer has remained one of the great enigmas of 17th-century Dutch art. While little is known of his personal life, his extraordinary paintings of natural and domestic life, with their subtle play of light and colour, have come to define the Dutch Golden Age. The mysterious portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has fascinated art historians 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 centres on Vermeer's prosperous household in Delft in the 1660s. The appointment of the quiet, perceptive heroine of the novel, the servant Griet, gradually throws the household into turmoil as Vermeer and Griet become increasingly intimate, an increasingly tense situation that culminates in her working for Vermeer as his assistant, and ultimately sitting for him as a model. Chevalier deliberately cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style in homage to Vermeer, and the complex domestic tensions of the Vermeer household are vividly evoked, from the jealous, vain, young wife to the wise, taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic, but Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist in its tail. Chevalier acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study of the Dutch Golden Age, The Embarrassment of Riches, and the novel comes hard on the heels of Deborah Moggach's similar tale of domestic intrigue behind the easel of 17th-century Dutch painting, Tulip Fever.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, but how much more can novelists extract from the Dutch Golden Age? --Jerry Brotton

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