I find the fictional character of Griet in Tracy Chevalier’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ fascinating. It seems as though because so little is known about the origins of the painting and the identity of the girl, the world has been free to speculate and therefore to create this moving story. As Chevalier’s story goes, Griet is a servant girl forced into working for Vermeer’s household through her impoverished state. She find a role there, collecting the meat from the butcher, doing the laundry, cleaning the house. However as time goes on she becomes part of Vermeer’s world, and almost by accident, his work. The novel describes the deep intimacy and tension shared between the artist and Griet, despite there being no historical evidence that Vermeer and his wife were unhappily married. Whatever the real circumstances were seem irrelevant however, as a work of fiction, and then of course, a film have been crafted out of a painting which left itself open to interpretation. Below is an exact from the book that I wanted to share:
‘What do you want sir?’ I asked, sitting. I was puzzled – we ever sat together. I shivered, although I was not cold.
‘Don’t talk.’ He opened a shutter so that the light fell directly on my face. ‘Look out the window.’ He sat down in his chair by the easel.
I gazed at the New Church tower and swollowed. I could feel my jaw tightening and my eyes widening.
‘Now look at me.’
I turned my head and looked at him over my left shoulder.
His eyes locked with mine. I could think of nothing except how their grey was like the inside of an oyster shell.
He seemed to be waiting for something. My face began to strain with the fear that I was not giving him what he wanted.
‘Griet,’ he said softly. It was all he had to say. My eyes filled with tears I did not shed. I knew now.
‘Yes. Don’t move.’
He was going to paint me.
Extract taken from : Chevalier, Tracy. Girl With A Pearl Earring (Harper Collins, GB 1999) p.180