Girl with the Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier’s short novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring is an artistically written novel about a young girl, Griet, who is hired as a maid in the house of Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer to support her family after her father is blinded in a work-related accident. The characters in this novel are well described as the author provides vivid detail about each one’s personality and characteristics.
In the beginning, the story seems to me to be a novel for adolescent girls, but as the story progresses, the plot deepens and becomes more complicated with things that only a mature woman would understand. This maturity begins to evolve after Vermeer himself is introduced into the story and then the scenes between the artist and Griet take on an erotic quality when Griet develops a passionate infatuation with the painter who is old enough to be her father. Nothing physical ever happens between the girl and her master, yet I felt the desire they felt for one another. A young man enters the story early in the novel when Griet goes to the market to buy meat for the Vermeer household. This young man is the son of a butcher who can provide her with a good life as well as food for her father and mother. He seems like a boring young man, but one who would be loyal and who can supply Griet with a comfortable life.
Griet is a potential artist who is a victim of her own times. She has a natural ability to “see” colors and how things should be arranged, offering Vermeer ideas for his own compositions. She poses in one of his portraits at the demand of a womanizing patron. In the portrait she wears the pearl earrings of her Master’s wife. Her mistress finds out that she has worn her earrings and she senses there was something between Vermeer and the young maid . Vermeer's wife never wears the earrings again. Eventually the magic Griet experiences in the studio of this great master must come to an end. Griet is forced into a life of dullness when she marries the butcher’s son and gives birth to his children.
After the great artist dies, Griet is summoned to the house of Vermeer by his wife who then gives the pearl earrings to Griet. Griet, in turn, sells the earrings and takes the money for her family. She is resolved that she was just a maid doing what a maid is supposed to do and has finally received her pay for the service of posing for the painting.