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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by

Girl with a Pearl Earring Cover

ISBN13: 9780452284937
ISBN10: 0452284937
Condition: Standard
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Author Q & A

Everyday life in 17th century Delft is so vivid in Girl with a Pearl Earring. How did you conduct your research? Where?

Most of it, I confess, was done in my armchair. I read a lot (especially Simon Schama's The Embarrassment Of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in The Golden Age) and looked at a lot of paintings. Luckily 17th-century Dutch paintings are mainly scenes from everyday life and so it was easy to see what houses looked like inside and how they were run. I also went to Delft for four days and just wandered around, taking it in. Vermeer's house no longer exists, but there are plenty of 17th-century buildings still left, as well as the Market Square, the Meat Hall, the canals and bridges. It's not hard to get an idea of what it was like then.

Little is known of Vermeer's life — at least compared with other Baroque painters like Rembrandt. Why did you choose Vermeer's work to write about?

I chose Vermeer's work because it is so beautiful and so mysterious. In his paintings, the solitary women going about their domestic tasks — pouring milk, reading letters, weighing gold, putting on a necklace — inhabit a world that we are getting a secret glimpse at. And because it feels secret — the women don't seem to know we're looking at them — it seems also that something else is going on underneath, something mysterious we can't quite grasp. The fact that so little is known about Vermeer was happenstance — happily so, as it turned out, for it meant I could make up a lot without worrying about things being "true" or not.

Were you inspired by this particular painting or by Vermeer's work in general?

I was inspired specifically by this particular painting, though I know his other work as well. A poster of this painting has hung on the wall of my bedroom since I was nineteen and I often lie in bed and look at it and wonder about it. It's such an open painting. I'm never sure what the girl is thinking or what her expression is. Sometimes she seems sad, other times seductive. So, one morning a couple years ago I was lying in bed worrying about what I was going to write next, and I looked up at the painting and wondered what Vermeer did or said to the model to get her to look like that. And right then I made up the story.

Is Girl with a Pearl Earring a true story? To what extent is it based in fact?

It isn't a true story. No one knows who the girl is, or in fact who any of the people in his paintings are. Very little is known about Vermeer — he left no writings, not even any drawings, just 35 paintings. The few known facts are based on legal documents — his baptism, his marriage, the births of his children, his will. I was careful to be true to the known facts; for instance, he married Catharina Bolnes and they had eleven surviving children. Other facts are not so clear-cut and I had to make choices: he may or may not have lived in the house of his mother-in-law (I decided he did); he converted to Catholicism at the time of his marriage but not necessarily because Catharina was Catholic (I decided he did); he may have been friends with the scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, who invented the microscope (I decided he was). But there was a lot I simply made up.

You chose to give your novel the same title as the painting. Is there a greater purpose for this? What sort of a relationship do you see the novel and the painting having?

The novel has the same name as the painting because the painting is the culmination of the story; its creation is what the story is leading up to. It also points up the earring, which is important as a symbol because it represents the world Griet gets drawn into and ultimately rejected from. The novel could not exist without the painting. I would never have written it, and I don't think it would have the same resonance with readers if the painting didn't exist.

Do you paint? If not, how did you learn about the process and tools?

I don't paint, though I did take a painting class while writing this book so I could find out a little about how it's done. I was absolutely awful at it, but I learned a lot. I also read about Vermeer's painting technique, and spoke with the woman who restored the painting for the 1996 Vermeer exhibition. She was able to explain to me some of the finer details of how he painted. As for the paints and how they were made, I found some old books about making paints and learned from them. I also bought some linseed oil (which is mixed with pigment to make paint) and left the bottle open as I was writing so that I could smell what they would have smelled.

17th century literature reflected religious and social changes just like 17th century painting. Milton's radical Paradise Lost was published during this time. Did you consider this sort of thing when writing an historical novel?

I didn't consider Paradise Lost, but clearly religious change in the Netherlands at the time was a very important issue. The Dutch had just thrown off the rule of the Catholic Spanish and were keen to distance themselves from Catholicism. Protestantism suited their natures. The Dutch Catholics were tolerated but were seen as slightly outside the system, which is fascinating when you consider that Vermeer actually converted to Catholicism, and so chose to be a maverick. You have to consider religious and social change when writing historical novels. They are essential to the push and pull of the story. In fact, all my novels are historical and set during periods of great social change. My first novel, The Virgin Blue (published in Britain), is set during the 16th century Reformation in France, and the novel I'm working on now is set in England at the beginning of the 20th century and up through World War I.

While reading the novel, I couldn't help examining and re-examining the painting every few pages. Did you write the novel with the painting at hand?

Oh yes. With all his paintings, in fact. I kept the catalogue from the 1996 Vermeer exhibition almost permanently open. Most of the characters' looks are based on people in his other paintings. In fact, if you want to see which paintings link to which people, check out the book's website at www.pearlearring.com.

Did you know how the story ended before you started writing?

Yes. I had the whole story worked out (except for the odd detail) before I started writing. This is unusual for me. Often I know only some of the story before I start writing. This book was a dream to write because of that and because the style is so spare.

Why the camera obscura? It plays such an important part, lending all sorts of ideas about technology and foreshadowing what's to come.

The camera obscura is a tangible representation of a different way of looking. Griet has the capacity to look in a different way, but she needs Vermeer to show her how. He does that partly with the help of the camera obscura. It also reminds us that in order to see clearly you have to focus, shut out the world and look at one corner of a room. That is what Vermeer's paintings do — they reveal the world in a room. That is also what the novel tries to do — it is deliberately narrow and focused, and in it is a whole world.

What's next? Are you ready to work on another historical novel? Yes. The next novel is set in a Victorian cemetery in London at the turn of the century and up through World War I. It's about two girls whose families have adjacent plots at the cemetery, and the apprentice gravedigger they meet there. In a wider sense the book is about the changing values at the beginning of the modern era, looked at through the changing attitudes to death and mourning. The Victorians bought elaborate tombs for their dead and followed strict and elaborate mourning rituals, but by the end of World War I graves became much simpler and mourning was conducted in private. Why did this change occur? The book attempts to answer that. I can't seem to write a contemporary novel. I suppose I'm more comfortable in the past, where I know what is important and lasting. If I write about today, I worry that it will date in ten years' time.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 5 comments:

gdreyer3586, November 16, 2009 (view all comments by gdreyer3586)
In my English class, we were given 5 possible books to read. I signed up for girl with a pearl earring and was not disappointed. The vivid imagery and descriptive plot made me want more. I literally couldnt put it down one night and read the whole thing. My whole group loved the book, and my other friends in that class all wish they had signed up for this one. You won't be disappointed!
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(4 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
narii, September 24, 2009 (view all comments by narii)
In my opinion, the book is dry and rather boring, the characters annoy me and the dialogues are lifeless.
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(6 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
bakurabi, September 24, 2009 (view all comments by bakurabi)
This book is honestly one of, if not the, worst book I've ever been forced to read for school, and I've read some pretty bad books. The plot, if you could even call it that, was so monotonous, that I often realized that I'd read the same line five times already without noticing. Also, the dialogue is so bland, the book would be better without it. If given the choice, I would have put this book down after the first page or two because there is nothing that would make you want to keep reading.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780452284937
Subtitle:
A Novel (movie tie-in)
Author:
Chevalier, Tracy
Publisher:
Plume
Location:
New York, N.Y., U.S.A.
Subject:
General
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Netherlands
Subject:
Women domestics
Subject:
Artists' models
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Biographical fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Movie Tie-in ed.
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Series Volume:
no. FDA03-1328C
Publication Date:
October 2003
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
7.80x5.06x.64 in. .50 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Girl with a Pearl Earring Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Plume Books - English 9780452284937 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A jewel of a novel."
"Review" by , "Chevalier's exploration into the soul of this complex but naïve young woman is moving, and her depiction of 17th-century Delft is marvelously evocative."
"Review" by , "Outstanding."
"Review" by , "A vibrant, sumptuous novel...triumphant...a beautifully written tale that mirrors the elegance of the painting that inspired it."
"Review" by , "Tracy Chevalier has so vividly imagined the life of the painter and his subject that you say to yourself: This is the way it must have been."
"Review" by , "The richest, most rewarding novel I have read this year."
"Review" by , "[A]bsorbing...Chevalier's writing skills and her knowledge of seventeenth-century Delft are such that she creates a world reminiscent of a Vermeer interior: suspended in a particular moment, it transcends its time and place."
"Review" by , "With wonderfilly effective restraint, Chevalier captures the glances and brief comments that gradually lead Griet into her master's studio, his painting, and finally his heart."
"Review" by , "[A] completely absorbing story with enough historical authenticity and artistic intuition to mark Chevalier as a talented newcomer to the literary scene."
"Review" by , "The elegant prose evokes contemplation, the pace is slow and cumulative, the drama emotional rather than visceral. Looking at the painting after having read the novel, the reader thinks, Yes, Chevalier got it right..."
"Synopsis" by ,

In seventeenth-century Delft, there's a strict social orderrich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servantand all know their place. When Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry, and the care of his six children. She even feels able to handle his shrewd mother-in-law; his restless, sensual wife; and their jealous servant. What no one expects is that Griet's quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into his world. Their growing intimacy sparks whispers; and when Vermeer paints her wearing his wife's pearl earrings, the gossip escalates into a full-blown scandal that irrevocably changes Griet's life.

Written with the precision and focus of an Old Master painting, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a vivid portrait of colorful seventeenth-century Delft, as well as the hauntingly poignant story of one young girl's rite of passage.

"Synopsis" by , The runaway New York Times bestseller with over one million copies sold

Now a major motion picture from Lions Gate Films opening November 2003

History and fiction merge seamlessly in Tracy Chevalier's luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Griet, the world of 1660s Holland comes dazzlingly alive in this richly imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings.

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