Girl with a Pearl Earring (novel)

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Girl with a Pearl Earring
Gwape first edition.png
First British edition dustjacket
Author Tracy Chevalier
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher HarperCollins (UK)
Dutton (US)
Publication date
January 1, 1999
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 256 pp
OCLC 42623358
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 21
LC Class PS3553.H4367 G57 1999

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 1999 historical novel written by Tracy Chevalier. Set in 17th century Delft, Holland, the novel was inspired by Delft school painter Johannes Vermeer's painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier presents a fictional account of Vermeer, the model, and the painting. The novel was adapted into a 2003 film of the same name and a 2008 play of the same name.


Tracy Chevalier's inspiration for Girl with a Pearl Earring was a poster of Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.[1] She bought the poster as a nineteen-year-old, and it hung wherever she lived for sixteen years. Chevalier notes that the "ambiguous look" on the girl's face left the "most lasting impression" on her. She describes the girl's expression "to be a mass of contradictions: innocent yet experienced, joyous yet tearful, full of longing and yet full of loss." She began to think that the girl had directed all these emotions at the painter, and began to think of the "story behind that look".[2]

Chevalier's research included reading the history of the period, studying the paintings of Vermeer and his peers, and spending several days in Delft.[2] Pregnant at the time of researching and writing, she finished the work in eight months, because, as she admitted, she had a "biological deadline".[3]


  • Griet, a sixteen-year old girl working as a servant in the Vermeer household, is the protagonist and narrator in the novel. Chevalier describes her as intelligent and perceptive, and that "she had an aesthetic eye that simply needed encouragement in order to flourish."[2]
  • Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch painter and Griet's master. Chevalier noted she was "reluctant to flesh him out", and that she wanted to keep him mysterious since very little is known about his personality historically.[2]
  • Catharina Vermeer, Johannes Vermeer's wife. Chevalier stated that it was easy for her to imagine Catharina's character since she herself was pregnant when she wrote the book; she is very jealous of Griet because she is the first and only person to act as Vermeer's assistant in the studio.[2]
  • Maria Thins, Vermeer's mother-in-law, who is cordial toward Griet.
  • Willem Thins, Catharina's brother, a jobless bachelor, is locked up in an institution after an argument with his mother, and for attacking a pregnant Catharina with a stick.
  • Tanneke, the Vermeers' other older household servant who initially guides Griet through her duties.
  • Maertge, Vermeer's eldest daughter who befriends Griet.
  • Cornelia, the Vermeer's third daughter who antagonizes Griet throughout her stay.
  • Pieter, the butcher's son who is in love with Griet
  • Agnes, Griet's 12-year-old sister who dies of the plague.
  • Van Ruijven, a patron of Vermeer who molests maids. His eye is caught by Griet, and he requests a portrait of her.


In Chevalier's fictional account, the character Griet is the model for Vermeer's painting.

Rather than writing a story of Vermeer having an illicit relationship with the household maid, Chevalier builds tension in the work with the depiction of their restraint. As Time magazine critic Sheppard writes, Chevalier presents "an exquisitely controlled exercise that illustrates how temptation is restrained for the sake of art". [4]


Published in the United States in January 2000, the book became a New York Times bestseller,[5] and went on to sell over two million copies in thirty-six languages.[6] In 2001 Plume Press released the paperback edition with an initial print-run of 120,000 copies; a year later the book had been reprinted 18 times with close to 2 million copies sold.[7] Over three millions copies have been sold in 36 languages, as of September 2008.[8]

Richard Eder of The New York Times described the work as a "brainy novel whose passion is ideas",[9] and the prepublication review in Time notes the fullness of the characters.[4] Atlantic Monthly praised Chevalier's effort "in creating the feel of a society with sharp divisions in status and creed", in describing Protestant Griet joining the household of the Catholic Vermeers.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tracy Chevalier Q&A". Daily Mail. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Chevalier, Tracy (September 2005). Girl With a Pearl Earring Deluxe Edition. Penguin Group. pp. ix–xvi. ISBN 0-452-28702-2. 
  3. ^ Chevalier, Tracy (December 28, 2003). "Mother of Pearl". Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  4. ^ a b Sheppard, R.Z. "A Portrait of Radiance" Time. January 9, 2000. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  5. ^ "Best Sellers Plus" The New York Times. February 27, 2000. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  6. ^ Gent, Paul (September 23, 2008). "Tracy Chevalier on letting go of Girl with a Pearl Earring". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  7. ^ "This Pearl is a Diamond". Publishers Weekly. Vol. 249. Issue 4. January 28, 2002.
  8. ^ Gent, Paul (23 September 2008). "Tracy Chevalier on letting go of Girl with a Pearl Earring". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  9. ^ Eder, Richard. "Master Vermeer, Isn't It, Um, Missing a Little Spark?" The New York Times. January 24, 2000. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  10. ^ Adams, Phoebe-Lou. Atlantic Monthly. February 2000. Vol. 285. Issue 2.

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