As we can see in “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, written by Tracy Chevalier, the author can be free in selection of facts and settings. The novel is a kind of composition on a free topic or the description of one’s feelings at the time of looking at the picture. Thus Tracy Chevalier tried to give her own opinion of the events which took place centuries earlier, the events which led to the creation of the famous portrait. I believe the author was inspired by the painting and thought about the story of a young artist’s model, her feelings, and the reasons of her actions.
Tracy Chevalier is a famous bestselling writer of the historical novels. She became a well-known author after having written the historical novel “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. As Tracy Chevalier is a novelist by occupation, and the literary genre in which she is engaged is the historical fiction, we can doubt the historical correspondence of the facts in the novel, as fiction presupposes the description of the events which do not seem to be true at the moment of writing or do not correspond to the real state of things.
Nevertheless, the novel “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a historical novel, as some reliable historical facts were observed during writing; while the contradictory facts from the painter’s biography and the unknown ones gave the author the right to choose the appropriateness of some events, facts and actions, and the importance of describing everything in one or other manner. “This sensual, first-person narrative gives readers a fascinating glimpse into another world. Not only do they learn in detail about Vermeer’s paintings, they also absorb information about Dutch life in the seventeenth century” (Silvey 83-84).
The author brings the image from the picture to life by way of vivid expression of the everyday customs and traditions of the families of different religions as Griet is a Protestant and the family of the painter Vermeer represents the religion of Catholicism. The novel is full of different things not said, which are the object of conflicts, rumors and scandals; it depicts relations of a young inexperienced girl with her master, a painter Vermeer, and with a young butcher’s son Pieter, who is in love with her, as one of the servants remarked: “I have heard that the butcher’s son is paying you attention” (Chevalier 92).
The events of the story take place in a Dutch town Delft. Griet is a sixteen-year old girl who lives in a poor quarter with its family, a family that has fallen on hard times and has to get some money to survive, as the father of the family, a tilemaker who lost his sight by an accident.
When Griet’s mother sends her to work in the family of a painter, “We have to, now your father has lost his trade” (Chevalier 6), she is very upset, because the work of a servant is considered not very honorable, dirty from the point of view of relations with the master, and discreditable for a young unmarried girl. Moreover, when Griet asks her mother about the place where the family of Johannes Vermeer lives, it turns out that they belong to other religion.
But Griet manages her job well being a maid in the Vermeer’s house, as she is calm and observant, she handles with all the household duties, she is attentive and industrious, and her soft temper helps her to get along with other servants and the painter’s family.
Subsequently Johannes Vermeer notices the girl’s gift and tries to engage her into the beautiful world of paintings; thus in spite of differences in social status, education and background knowledge the painter and the maid possess a similar perception of things. The most frequent topic of his paintings is a woman fulfilling her household duties, and the image always looks as if it was made without the knowledge of the woman, as if we observed her work by stealth.
Griet has to survive in the house of her master because though Vermeer liked this young girl, her way of thinking and understanding the things, and the talents of perception. The author links the moments that Griet shares with Vermeer to her subsequent interactions with Pieter, the butcher’s son, by describing her inner state, her feelings, though only her mother “would note the tightness along my jaw, the widening of my already wide eyes” (Chevalier 3), as Griet was always calm and accurate.
As Griet plays a great role in the work of her master, their feeling of intimacy expands the whole house, causing jealousy of Vermeer’s wife and gossiping of servants. The relationships of a young girl with Johannes Vermeer are very specific, as he somehow helps her to understand herself, to find the right way out of the situation, and besides she plays a part of an artist’s model; the latter fact makes his wife jealous.
Pieter is a young man, full of charm and confidence to win the heart of a young girl, so he does. And when Griet comes to know that “The painter Vermeer is dead” (Chevalier 224), she does not feel sorry for her work with the great master and she does not feel necessary to show everyone that the painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is her portrait, as “a butcher’s wife did not wear such things, no more than a maid did” (Chevalier 233).
The growing relationship with Vermeer seemed to affect Griet’s relationship with Pieter, as she was at a loss; she had the feeling of affection towards both men, though she could not rely upon reciprocal feelings of Johannes Vermeer, as he is married, he is a Catholic, he has children, and she is a young and inefficient girl, unmarried, belonging to Protestant religion. They belong to different worlds. Moreover, I think, Griet sees a mentor in Vermeer, as she is away of native home and she needs someone to rely on.
At the same time Griet possesses affectionate feelings towards the butcher’s son, who finally becomes her husband. Griet is changed after having relations with both Vermeer and Pieter, as she experienced different feelings with them: affection, confidence, and jealousy – the broad range of feelings that cannot be seen on her calm face. Griet seems to be an embodiment of firmness as most young girls could not cope with such a great number of obstacles, which were given to her as a way to make her stronger, to teach how to recognize features of people, to learn more about her and to get priceless experience of life.
Silvey, Anita. 500 great books for teens. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.
Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. New York: Plume, 2001.