I recently finished “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier. I enjoyed the book as a follow up to my art history class. We often talked about the lives of artists and I was intrigued to learn more about the life of the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. The story is fictional, but set around real paintings and real events in Vermeer’s life, thought the main character Griet is made up. The story is written with very painterly language. Often images are drawn up in colors. I enjoyed that aspect of the book. The book reflects on many topics: religion and art, male/female relations, social status, people who are blind, and small town dynamics. I was most interested by the relations Griet had with three men, the Butcher’s son, Vermeer, and his Patron Pieter Van Ruijven. The first relationship is between a girl and boy of equal age. The boy is attracted to Griet because of her beauty and mysteriously quiet but strong nature. She think him handsome, but is disgusted by his occupation and continually bloodied clothes and hands. She is determined to marry her. It places her in an odd position because she isn’t attracted to him and she is, and yet her family rejoices at his interest because it would mean they would never starve and that their daughter would be well enough off. It would be a financially responsible marriage.
Griet’s admiration of Vermeer is that of a young school girl who has a crush on her teacher. She is amazed at his intense personality and his artistic mastery. She’s intrigued his introvert personality and his commanding presence awes her. Through out the book you see that she, like many women is pulled into the handsome, yet controlling nature of this man.
The last is between her and Vermeer’s patron Pieter Van Ruijven. He is a wealthy man who uses his status to get whatever he wants, namely women. He is attracted to Griet, and it is upon his request that she is painted, hence the painting “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” Griet, a strong girl, does not submit to his advances, though she is told she must- for her own good.
I have many friends who have been deeply damaged by their interactions with men. I fortunately have been blessed with many relationships with wonderful, thoughtful, and respectful men and for whatever reasons, have never been put in a place where my virtue was challenged, or where I was pushed to have a relationship with someone for financial or social reasons. I was raised to be a strong woman and an independent woman, and thus I have never been intimidated by men. I am blessed. Many women are not. I have countless friends who can talk on and on about their terrible relationships with men. One girl showed bite marks all over her body. I struggle to understand. However, this book shed a small amount of light on the subject.
This doesn’t make my favorite books list, but it is a quick and somewhat thoughtful book.