Girl with a Pearl Necklace
There are several novels that have characters who really desire to possess beauty. In the case of the novel “Girl with a Pearl Earring” written by Tracy Chevalier (1991), one of the characters who can be associated with this claim was Griet.
The novel was inspired by the painting Johannes Vermeer’s painting of the same title, which has been dubbed as the Dutch Mona Lisa. Chevalier’s novel narrates the tale behind Vermeer’s renowned portrait, portraying life in a small city called Delft with a growing art community during the 17th century.
During that period in Delft, there was an existing stringent social order that Catholic either rich or poor, Protestant and Catholic, servant and master — and all understand their place. The narrator in the novel is Griet who is a calm and gentle Dutch girl coming from a family that has experienced hardships in life. Because she wants to help her family, she served as a servant in the house of the prominent painter in the person of Vermeer.
Their first encounter happened when the Vermeer and his wife came to the house of the family of Griet. According to the novel, Griet narrated that “The man was watching me, his eyes as grey as the sea….his expression was steady, in contrast to his wife’s, which flickered like a candle (Chevalier, 1991, pp. 4-5).
Consequently, when Griet becomes a maid in the household of Vermeer, she assumes she knows her role: housework, the care of his six children, and laundry. Moreover, she even feels capable to deal with his astute mother-in-law; his sensual, restless wife; and their envious servant. But what nobody expects is that Griet’s quick perceptions, quiet manner, and fascination with her master’s paintings caused her to desire to possess and appreciate beauty through her master’s paintings, thus this drew her inevitably into his world.
While working at the household of Vermeer, Griet’s quiet and rational ways not merely helped her in her tasks as household help; it also draws her closer to Vermeer’s attention. Despite the fact that both of them differ in a lot of ways such as social standing, education, and upbringing, both of them has a similar manner of observing and studying things. Specifically, the two of them have the same metaphysical value of assessments and opinions.
Because of this desire of Griet, their growing closeness triggers whispers; and when Vermeer paints Griet wearing his wife’s pearl earrings, the gossip intensifies into a full-scale scandal that irreversibly changes Griet’s life.
As maintained by Wolf (1991), despite the fact that physical beauty is acquired simply by chance, we can still observe that this is still the ultimate objective of the majority of women today. Wolf (1991) further emphasized “The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it” (Wolf 12). Personally, I think that the drawback with men’s desire to possess physical beauty (as embodied by a woman) is that the concept of what is physically beautiful alters as time passes by.
As narrated by Griet in the novel “After my father’s accident we had learned to place things where he always knew to find them. It was one thing to do this for a blind man, though. Quite another for a man with a painter’s eyes.” I think that because of Griet’s desire to posses or appreciate beauty; Griet was drawn to the world of Vermeer’s paintings. Besides Griet’s tasks in the household, she established for herself the contentious duty of being Vermeer’s assistant. Moreover, I also believe that since Griet was in the verge of womanhood, she also dealt with the growing attention and admiration from several men.
It was stressed in the novel that this need for reassurance and encouragement is vital to Griet. In her desire for beauty, she was presumed to have relationship with her master because of her interest in his works. However, the truth is, Griet was faced with the constraints of class and gender. Although Vermeer gave her secret and prohibited chores such as mixing paints, Griet still remained to be a maid, and in the end married a butcher.
It is obvious to the reader that Griet is in love with her master but Vermer was mysterious to some extent. But eventually, Vermeer’s decision to paint Grit and make her the object of his painting enabled Griet to know that through Vermeer’s gaze, Griet became recognized as a person with a deeper value. And I believe that this was what Griet craved before, to possess beauty so that her master will notice her and give her importance. Moreover, this decision to make Griet the subject of his painting dealt with a strain in feminist theory, which talks about women as both objects and subjects.
In conclusion, this novel affirmed the notion of Wolf (1991) that actual beauty can be described as the interface of sensuality and personality with the external as observed in Griet’s life in Chevalier’s novel.#
Chevalier, Tracy. “Girl with a Pear Earring.” New York: E.P. Dutton, 1999.
Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991.