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Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Relationship Stories Historical fiction Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel eBooks of the Month Literary Fiction

LoveReading Expert Review of Girl with a Pearl Earring

A masterful contemporary classic in which a sharply perceptive young woman discovers her artistic eye when she becomes maid - and later assistant, model and muse - to Vermeer and finds herself trapped in a web of subjugation.

20th Anniversary Edition

When Griet’s father, a notable tile-maker, is blinded she goes to work for artist Vermeer to support her destitute family. She’s an outsider from the start, a poor Protestant in a well-to-do Catholic household who’s regarded with suspicion by her fellow staff, especially when she alone is entrusted to venture into the master’s studio. Soon enough Griet experiences the magic of artistic creation, of seeing colour anew, of seeing everything anew. But, as her passion for art is aroused so too is an ache of guilt as she grows ever distant from her family. Then there’s the attention and lusts of the handsome butcher’s son who seeks her hand in marriage, and the lascivious approaches of her master’s wealthy patron. The intrigue and tension of the Vermeer household, and the ebb and flow of life in a 17th century Dutch market town are described in painterly detail through Griet’s keenly observant eyes as a swelling scandal spills to the outside world from within the duplicitous household. 

At once a compelling page-turner and a tour de force of tension and coming-of-age turmoil, this novel remains a must-read for historical fiction fans some twenty years after publication.

Joanne Owen

Girl with a Pearl Earring Synopsis

When Griet becomes a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry and the care of his six children. But as she becomes part of his world and his work, their growing intimacy spreads tension and deception in the ordered household and, as the scandal seeps out, into the town beyond.

 

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780007232161
Publication date: 7th February 2019
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Harpercollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 288 pages
Collections: Around the World in 80+ Historical Novels.,
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:
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Girl with a Pearl Earring Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

I have read this book so many times. And even after re-reading this book so many times, it is and will always remain one of my favourite books, a story that is evergreen and has such an emotional story worth retelling.

Tracy Chevalier has been inspired by the artwork of Johannes Vermeer, and his most famous painting, the Girl with a Pearl Earring, that she decided to write a story of what she believes might have happened behind that painting. For me, when looking at paintings, this is one of the things that cross my mind – what is the actual story behind it, what was the relationship between the painter and the people on the painting, what were they all thinking and what did their lives look like… In this book, we are able to enter this world, where we see a story of what might have happened here, and this story is a wonderful experience.

Ivana Atanasova

Slow, seductive historical fiction. An exquisite and evocative read.

Griet’s life changes when she is forced into servitude due to her father’s ill health. As a maid in the house of artist, Johannes Vermeer, she is forced to work long hours in an inhospitable environment, fearful of her master and wary of her cold mistress. Griet soon captures her master’s eye, however, and begins to secretly mix paints for him before eventually being persuaded to pose for him. Vermeer’s mother-in-law, who lives with them, distrusts Griet, but knowing that Vermeer must continue to work to provide for the family enters into a secret pact with the girl. As tension in the family builds and Griet struggles with the amorous intentions of butcher, Pieter, and her growing feelings for her master, Vermeer asks the impossible of Griet and almost ruins her.


This is a slow, seductive and subtle book that gradually draws you in. It’s incredibly atmospheric and brilliantly evokes the era and sense of place. The writing’s very economical which makes it very easy to read and the sense of impending danger builds steadily as the story unfolds. Intriguing, tense and beautifully-written, this 20th anniversary edition is a celebration of masterful historical fiction.

Clare Wilkins

A great classic of historical fiction about a world-famous portrait.

A great classic of historical fiction.

This 20th anniversary reissue of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring shows how great writing really stands the test of time.

The narrative concerns Griet, a character Chevalier has invented to build her story around the anonymous girl in Vermeer’s famous painting. Griet joins the Vermeer household in Delft initially as a maid of all work and one of her tasks is to keep the studio clean whilst avoiding the artist himself. Eventually however, she becomes involved in the artist’s studio work, assisting with preparing the paints and finally is forced to undertake the modelling role for the portrait.

Chevalier’s craftsmanship in evoking the atmosphere of mid-17th century Delft and relating the tensions between Griet and the family members is as skilful as Vermeer’s artistry. The characters are well-drawn, totally believable and the narrative is beautifully constructed to absorb the reader in a fascinating, tense relationship. Girl with a Pearl Earring is an outstanding piece of historical fiction writing, a real pager turner whilst highlighting “the unhurried and arduous way” in which Vermeer worked to produce such masterly works of art.

Many thanks to the publisher and LoveReading for review copy and the opportunity to reacquaint myself with such an excellent classic novel.

Linde Merrick

A beautiful read – I’m already looking forward to re-reading it

I read a lot, and I’ve read (and enjoyed) a number of Tracy Chevalier’s books. But for some reason, never this one. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it – it just never happened. Until now.

And what a joy it was.

The narrator is the girl with a pearl earring. The story relates how she becomes a maid in Vermeer’s household, torn from her family home when her father is unable to keep working. She no longer fits into that world, nor to her new one. Gradually she becomes involved with Vermeer’s work eventually becoming the model for this painting.

The writing has a painterly quality to it, layers upon layers building up the story, emphasising certain aspects and playing down others. It’s a beautiful read and I’m already looking forward to re-reading it – always a key sign for me.

Sarah Webb

A beautifully written, easy to read story. A real delight.

I enjoyed this book. It's very gentle and exceptionally easy to read. It is beautifully written, with very concise language and this helps move the story along. It's written in the First Person so the reader is able to understand Griet's thoughts and actions. I don't know anything about this period of history or about Vermeer, and the book has encouraged me to do some research and also to watch the film. My only criticism is that I found most of the characters a bit light although I appreciate that the background characters are necessary to explain why Griet found herself in Vermeer's household and that this is Griet's story, not theirs.

Pauline Braisher

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is still as wonderful as it was twenty years ago when it first came out. The challenges Griet faces as a servant, her growing love of art and sitting for a portrait that ultimately leads to her demise combined with powerful descriptions of life at that time in 1660's makes this a great read.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier was released twenty years ago, where has the time gone? I read this book way back then, but was only too pleased to revisit it.

Set in the 1660's, the 'girl' is a maid sent by her parents to work for an artist and his family when her father has to give up his job. Griet becomes immersed in the world of painting and the descriptions of her opinion of her masters work are well thought through. The knocking back of Vermeer when he relentlessly tries to seduce her shows how servants were seen at that time. I love the vision of the bustling market and the smells and sights encountered there, the way the butchers son courts her and the unrequited love of Griet for her master.

The book shows well the major differences between being society and working class, with many going hungry while others dine on fine foods. When Griet is asked to sit for a painting it unleashes an array of emotions from the lady of the house to Vermeer who it was commissioned for, which ultimately leads to Griet's demise.
I loved reading this book again and it has stood the test of time very well, what's not to like?

Glenda Worth

I have to confess never to have read this beautiful book. The author takes such a famous paining by Vermeer and brings it to life with a wonderful story set in the 1600s.

I have to confess never to have read this beautiful book, this has a new an interesting introduction by the author who is overwhelmed with the success of novel, film and interest in a painting- people instantly refer to this as the girl with a pearl earring but possibly will never know the painter.

Having read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton I wanted to read this novel and how wonderful to receive the 20th-anniversary copy.

It is beautiful that the author takes such a famous painting by Vermeer and brings it to life with a wonderful story set in the 1600s about a girl who works as a maid in the Vermeer house. There is an air of mystery with Vermeer himself, jealousy his wife is jealous of the maids beauty and the maid who is mesmerised by the paintings.

Vermeer's patrons order the maid to sit for one of his paintings. She is mesmerised even with the mixing of the paints and being able to assist to being around art material she has never seen before. Slowly she feels affection for Vermeer and he too for her.

Sadly the wife comes upon the painting and even more racked with jealously orders the maid out of the household to marry a butchers son - back to what was right for that time- one wonders if this had happened today would Vermeer have left his jealous wife or was this the artist falling in love with art and the painting? leave the reader to their thoughts.

The maid is a likable and beautiful character the author brings to life this time in history. I will now watch the film, as glad to have read the book first. As for the Painting? Well, I will need to travel to the Hague to see it.

Jane Brown

A gently gripping story of how a beautiful young servant girl became the enigmatic subject of Vermeer’s famous painting. Well worth reading!

This historical novel is set in Delft, Holland in the 17th Century and is based on Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name. The main character is the subject of the painting, Griet, a beautiful 16-year-old who is forced to work as a servant in the artist’s household when her family fall upon hard times. Griet is intelligent and efficient but her inferior position, in terms of social standing and gender, make her very vulnerable, especially when her beauty attracts unwanted male attention. Chevalier’s sympathetic portrayal of Griet and the tenderness of Griet’s growing relationship with the artist draws you into her story and holds your attention throughout as you hope fervently for a happy ending for the girl. The book is well-written and, although it could be described as steady rather than exciting, I actually enjoyed the subtlety of the underlying tensions within the story.

Lynne Manton

A beautifully written, enthralling, evocative depiction of Delft in the time of Vermeer - a true page-turner.

A beautifully written, enthralling, evocative depiction of Delft in the time of Vermeer. Griet is a young Protestant girl who goes to work for the Vermeer family as a maid. The descriptions of her daily toil are detailed and give a real feel of what it felt like to be a young girl from a poor background at that time. She becomes, in secret, Vermeer’s assistant, helping him to prepare his paints; a fascinating account of the life of an artist at that time. It had to be in secret because Madame Vermeer would not have approved, but of course, she finds out and then Griet is in a lot of trouble. This is a great book, extremely enjoyable, and I couldn’t put it down.

Susan Wallace

Tracy Chevalier has taken one painting and imagined the world it existed in, and it is sublime.

A beautifully imagined read, I am really sorry to have finished it.
Having never read the book before (despite being an international bestseller within easy reach for the last 20 years) it was with interest that I read the new introduction by Tracy Chevalier, of her immediate attraction to the unfamiliar painting, and the relationship she formed with the image (she took that poster to London and back on a semester abroad during university!) Eventually Tracy posed the question, what was behind that gaze between model and artist?
Records do not detail the identity of the model and very little is known of Vermeer but Tracy Chevalier has crafted a wonderful backdrop to the painting. Fleshing out the model with a name, a family, a history, a life and weaving throughout that which is known of seventeenth century Delft and Vermeer.
Griet was never going to be a maid but her father’s accident meant he lost his trade and the family their livelihood. Griet’s employment by Vermeer was to be their saving. Unwittingly, despite treading a diplomatic path through the household, Griet becomes the focus of jealousy and mischief, the former from both Vermeer’s wife and Tanneke (the long-serving maid) and the latter from Cornelia, one of Vermeer’s daughters. Compounded by the lustful intentions of Vermeer’s sponsor, the wealthy van Ruijven, Griet’s position soon becomes untenable.
Tracy has taken one painting and imagined the world it existed in and it is sublime.

Catherine Purcell

I love the atmosphere in this book and the detailed descriptions. The subtle storylines and the grace of Griet draw you into Vermeer's world.

I love the atmosphere in this book and the detailed descriptions. The subtle storylines and the grace of Griet draw you into Vermeer's world. A trip back in time that is believable and slowly gripping. I was surprised to enjoy this book as much as I did as it's not my usual genre and I know nothing about art. The parts about Vermeer painting were interesting and I found it beautifully written overall.

Nikki Telling

Worth reading this book gives an insight to life in Holland long ago. It also gives one an appreciation for art. It's a well written book full of feelings about what happened and about a maid's life back then.

A marvelous book about the girl in Vermeer's painting. This book tells so much of the time when this was painted. It takes you into the life of Holland as it was in those days and the people who lived there. The people of those days, including the maid in the picture make their thoughts and feelings clear. We learn of the feelings between the maid and her master even though it wasn't spoken of and we can see the animosity coming from the painter's wife towards the maid, Griet. Because Vermeer painted slowly, the family never made much money and his wife seemed to be permanently pregnant.

The days of courting moved very slowly then and the butcher's son made it obvious without saying anything that she was the girl for him. At the end the book moves very quickly on to her life as a married woman with a family and while expecting her to have a relationship with painter, it never happens.

Lynette McCann

Republished after twenty years 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is an imaginative snapshot into the life of 'Griet', a fourteen year old Dutch girl, who leaves her home, to live and work as a maid in the house of the painter, Vemeer.

Republished after twenty years 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is an imaginative snapshot into the life of 'Griet', a fourteen year old Dutch girl, who leaves her home, to live and work as a maid in the house of the painter, Vemeer.

Life is a set of routines of washing, ironing, shopping, cleaning that gives Griet a  sense of purpose and fulfilment. 

Whilst cleaning Vemeer's studio, Griet begins to learn about and understand the Artist's method, the use of colour and the unique approach that he brings to his work.

One particular day, whilst assisting in the studio, Griet is confronted by the pivotal moment to the story, that leads to her portrait being produced.

The author accepts the limitations of her work, but she has writes in an interesting and thoughtful way and has achieved, what 'could' have been the actual background to the portrait. 

Peter Baiden

Tracy Chevalier Press Reviews

'A portrait of radiance…Tracy Chevalier brings the real artist Vermeer and a fictional muse to life in a jewel of a novel.' Time

'It has a slow, magical current of its own that picks you up and carries you stealthily along…a beautiful story, lovingly told by a very talented writer.' Daily Mail

'A wonderful novel, mysterious, steeped in atmosphere, deeply revealing about the process of painting…truly magical.' Guardian

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780007232161
Publication date: 07/02/2019
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781471293795
Publication date: 01/04/2015
Format: CD-Audio

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About Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is the author of six previous novels, including the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, The Lady and the Unicorn, Burning Bright and Remarkable Creatures. Born in Washington, DC, she moved to London in 1984, where she lives with her husband and son. The film of Girl with a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth as Vermeer, was released in the UK in January. It was nominated for 10 BAFTAs and two Academy Awards. Photograph © Eammon McCabe

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