Girl With a Pearl Earring: Important quotes with page numbers – 16029 words

Girl With a Pearl Earring: Important quotes with page numbers

“As the woman turned to look at the man, a fold of her mantle caught the handle of the knife I had been using, knocking it off the table so that it spun across the floor. […] I stepped over and picked up the knife, polishing the blade on my apron before placing it back on the table. The knife brushed against the vegetables. I set a piece of carrot back in its place” (Part 1, page 4)

The woman and man in this passage are Catharina and Johannes Vermeer. Catharina is wearing the garment that figures prominently in many of Vermeer’s paintings and that will become an object of envy for Griet, as it represents for her Catharina’s privileged status as a middle-class woman and Vermeer’s wife. Significantly, it is this mantle that catches the knife, here representative of power, and sends it spinning across the floor.

The power that Griet has when safe at home in her mother’s kitchen, to feel some measure of control over her life is about to be upset, like the knife itself. That Griet picks up the knife (instead of Catharina, who sent it spinning in the first place)[/trx_quote], also illustrates their social status relative to one another and mirrors the final scene of Part 3, when Griet refuses to pick up another knife Catharina sends spinning across the floor.

“I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips. I had used knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center” (Part 1, page 5)

This passage is important as it is Griet’s attention to order and color that first attracts Vermeer’s eye. References to this seminal moment are made throughout the book.

“It was a simple picture of two small figures, a boy and an older girl. They were not playing as children usually did in tiles. They were simply walking along, and were like Frans and me whenever we walked together—clearly our father had thought of us as he painted it. The boy was a little ahead of the girl but had turned back to say something. His face was mischievous, his hair messy.

The girl wore her cap as I wore mine, not as most other girls did, with the ends tied under their chins or behind their necks. I favored a white cap that folded in a wide brim around my face, covering my hair completely and hanging down in points on each side of my face so that from the side my expression was hidden” (Part 1, page 11)

This passage describes Griet’s favorite tile painted by her father, the one she brings with her to the Vermeer household when she goes to live and work there. The tile is a symbol of her childhood and the unity of her family, both of which are becoming things of the past as Griet matures into adulthood. The passage also describes Griet’s cap and how she wears it; this is important because it introduces the importance of her hair as a symbol of her sexuality and agency. With her hair safely contained under her cap, she feels she has a measure of control over herself and her life. The cap also hides Griet’s “expression,” another facet of her desire to remain in control and less vulnerable to the people around her.

“Frans, Agnes, and I used to sit along that canal and throw things in—pebbles, sticks, once a broken tile—and imagine what they might touch on the bottom— not fish but creatures from our imagination, with many eyes, scales, hands and fins. Frans thought up the most interesting monsters. Agnes was the most frightened. I always stopped the game, too inclined to see things as they were to be able to think up things that were not” (Part 1, page 12)

This passage is one of several that illustrate Griet’s nostalgia for the innocence of childhood and the strong bond she has with her family. It also highlights Griet’s way of seeing the world—her inclination “to see things as they were” is, in part, what secures her the job cleaning Vermeer’s studio.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 1, page 74)

Griet makes this statement twice during the novel. On this occasion she makes it after taking a gift of meat to her family from Pieter the son, to whom she does not want to be beholden. Pieter has informed her that the quarantine in her family’s section of the city has been lifted, and Griet rushes home to find out that her sister has died of the plague. The phrasing of this statement asks us to decide whether Griet is running as a “thief” or as a “child.”

It is, in fact, both: she is “stealing” from Pieter in the sense that she has no intention of returning his affection (even though she will eventually marry him, at this moment in the book, she has resisted his expressions of romantic interest)[/trx_quote], and she is running as a child would, desperate to get back home and see her family, away from the symbolic threat of sexual maturity that Pieter represents.

“‘What color are those clouds? ’ ‘Why, white, sir. ’ He raised his eyebrows slightly. ‘Are they? ’ I glanced at them. ‘And grey. Perhaps it will snow. ’ ‘Come, Griet, you can do better than that. Think of your vegetables. ’ ‘My vegetables, sir? ’ He moved his head slightly. I was annoying him again. My jaw tightened. ‘Think of how you separated the whites. Your turnips and your onions—are they the same white? ’ Suddenly I understood. ‘No. The turnip has green in it, the onion yellow. ’ ‘Exactly. Now, what colors do you see in the clouds? ’

‘There is some blue in them,’ I said after studying them for a few minutes. “And—yellow as well. And there is some green! ” I became so excited I actually pointed. I had been looking at clouds all my life, but I felt as if I saw them for the first time at that moment. […] After that I could not stop looking at things” (Part 2, ppage 101–102)

This passage illustrates another of Vermeer’s “lessons” for Griet, about how to see like a painter, how to develop her own nascent artistic vision. He gives her more that her “wide eyes” can take in, and her delight is child-like.

“The colors themselves made up for the troubles I had hiding what I was doing. I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary—bones, white lead, madder, massicot—to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and other colors was magical” (Part 2, page 107–108)

Though grinding paints for Vermeer puts Griet into the position of having to lie to the majority of the people in his household, it is also another example of how her otherwise limited world is opened up through her association with Vermeer. As his assistant, she experiences things she would otherwise have no access to, and while most people might find the work of grinding colors to be tedious and difficult, for Griet, with her natural eye for color, it is, as she notes, “magical” (page 108)[/trx_quote]

“I grew used to being around him. Sometimes we stood side by side in the small room, me grinding white lead, him washing lapis or burning ochers in the fire. He said little to me. He was a quiet man. I did not speak either. It was peaceful then, with the light coming in through the window. When we were done we poured water from a pitcher over each other’s hands and scrubbed ourselves clean” (Part 2, page 108)

This passage illustrates the companionship that grows out of a shared purpose, and gives an almost-religious quality to their work that foreshadows Griet’s mother’s observation that Griet’s descriptions of Vermeer’s paintings makes them seem like “they could be of religious scenes” and gives them meanings they do “not ha e or deserve” (page 137)[/trx_quote], as well as Vermeer’s description of art as “the bridge between ourselves and God” (page 140)[/trx_quote]

“I liked sleeping in the attic. […] I felt alone there, perched high above the noisy household, able to see it from a distance. Rather like him. The best part, however, was that I could spend more time in the studio. Sometimes I wrapped myself in a blanket and crept down late at night when the house was still. I looked at the painting he was working on by candlelight, or opened a shutter a little to let in moonlight.

Sometimes I sat in the dark in one of the lion-head chairs pulled up to the table and rested my elbow on the blue and red table rug that covered it. I imagined wearing the yellow and black bodice and pearls, holding a glass of wine, sitting across the table from him” (Part 2, page 110–111)

This passage is important in that Griet places herself in two positions, neither of which she can inhabit in reality, but both appealing in their own ways. The first is that of Vermeer, seeing things “from a distance”, from his lofty perspective as an artist, “high above the noisy household. ” The second is that of a gentlewoman, possibly Vermeer’s wife, a woman who is Vermeer’s social peer.

The second position supports a view of the novel as the story of how Griet falls in love with and wants to be with Vermeer, while the first position reminds us that it may be just as true, if not more so, that rather than wanting to be with Vermeer, Griet actually wants to be like him and have the freedom to pursue her own artistic vision.

“Close to the Rietveld Canal there was an alley that Pieter guided me to, his hand at the small of my back. […] I stood against the wall and let Pieter kiss me. He was so eager that he bit my lips.

I did not cry out—I licked away the salty blood and looked over his shoulder at the wet brick wall opposite as he pushed himself against me. A raindrop fell into my eye” (page 121–122)

This is Griet’s first sexual experience, and it foreshadows the scene in Part Three when Vermeer pierces Griet’s swollen, infected earlobe with his wife’s pearl earring. In both scenes, Griet licks a salty liquid—blood from Pieter the butcher’s kiss and her own tears from Vermeer the painter’s caresses—and both are scenes of Griet being compelled to do something she doesn’t want to do.

“My hair was long and could not be tamed. When it was uncovered it seemed to belong to another Griet—a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man, who was not so calm and quiet and clean. A Griet like the women who dared to bare their heads. That was why I kept my hair completely hidden—so that there would be no trace of that Griet” (Part 2, page 122)

Griet’s explanation for why she keeps her hair so well-covered is offered to the reader in response to Pieter’s attempts to put his hands under her cap and gain access to it, though it is not an explanation she offers to Pieter. Here, she explicitly links her hair to her sexuality.

Griet with her hair uncovered is “a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man. ” Given that that is what she just did, only with her hair fully covered, leaves the reader to wonder whether the Griet who would leave her hair uncovered is really so well-hidden. This passage also foreshadows Griet’s description of the painting of her, when she sees herself as “Griet from another town, even from another country altogether” (page 191)[/trx_quote]

“’There is something dangerous about your description of his paintings,’ she explained. ‘From the way you talk they could be of religious scenes. It is as if the woman you describe is the Virgin Mary when she is just a woman, writing a letter. You give the painting meaning that it does not have or deserve. There are thousands of paintings in Delft. You can see them everywhere, hanging in a tavern as readily as in a rich man’s house’” (Part 2, page 137)

At first, it appears as though Griet’s mother’s reservations about Vermeer’s paintings are religiously motivated; however, her quibble is not with Vermeer’s paintings themselves but with her daughter’s descriptions of them. This is another example of the growing rift between Griet and her parents that is the result of her increasing attraction to Vermeer. It is also a comment on the meaning and function of art that foreshadows Vermeer’s own description in response to Griet’s question whether his paintings are “Catholic. ”

“’A painting in a church is like a candle in a dark room—we use it to see better. It is the bridge between ourselves and God. But it is not a Protestant candle or a Catholic candle. It is simply a candle. ’ […] ‘There is a difference between Catholic and Protestant attitudes to painting,’ he explained as he worked, ‘but it is not necessarily as great as you may think.

Paintings may serve a spiritual purpose for Catholics, but remember too that Protestants see God everywhere, in everything. By painting everyday things—tables and chairs, bowls and pitchers, soldiers and maids—are they not celebrating God’s creation as well? ’”(Part 2, page 140)

Vermeer’s answer to Griet’s question of whether his paintings are “Catholic” is also a comment on the nature of art as a way to partake of the divine and a validation of the almost holy way that Griet unintentionally describes Vermeer’s paintings which her mother criticizes.

“Years of hauling water, wringing out clothes, scrubbing floors, emptying chamberpots, with no chance of beauty or color or light in my life, stretched before me like a landscape of flat land where, a long way off, the sea is visible but can never be reached” (Part 2, page 142)

This passage describes Griet’s response to the prospect of no longer being Vermeer’s assistant and shows us just how bleak she feels her prospects to be, shedding more light onto why she is willing to take significant risks to continue working with him. For someone like Griet, whose eye for beauty and color is especially sensitive, the prospect of life as a maid’s seems particularly crushing.

“’You’re getting caught where you should not be, Griet,’ Pieter said more kindly. ‘Theirs is not your world. ’ I opened my eyes and took a step back from him. ‘I came here to explain that the rumor is false, not to be accused by you. Now I’m sorry I bothered. ’ ‘Don’t be. I do believe you. ’ He sighed. ‘But you have little power over what happens to you. Surely you can see that? ’ When I did not answer he added, ‘If your master did want to paint a picture of you and van Ruijven, do you really think you could say no? ’ It was a question I had asked myself but found no answer to.

‘Thank you for reminding me of how helpless I am,’ I replied tartly. ‘You wouldn’t be, with me. We could run our own business, earn our own money, rule our own lives. Isn’t that what you want? ’ I looked at him, at his bright blue eyes, his yellow curls, his eager face. I was a fool even to hesitate. ‘I didn’t come here to talk about this. I’m too young yet. ’ I used the old excuse. Someday I would be too old to use it. ‘I never know what you’re thinking, Griet,’ he tried again. ‘You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes. ’

I smoothed my cap, checking with my fingers for stray hairs. ‘All I mean to say is that there is no painting,’ I declared, ignoring what he had just said” (Part 2, ppage 159–160)

This conversation between Griet and Pieter is notable for the accuracy of Pieter’s perspective, he sees that Griet is getting caught up in a world of Vermeer’s creation, where she “should not be,” and understands that she has “little power over what happens to her. ” Griet’s declaration that “there is no painting” is coupled with her rejection of Pieter’s vision of their life together—implied by the smoothing of her capage However, just as she is proved wrong about the painting, she is also proved wrong about Pieter.

“He got another of the lion-head chairs and set it close to his easel but sideways so it faced the window. ‘Sit here. ’ ‘What do you want, sir? ’ I asked, sitting. I was puzzled—we never 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 swallowed. 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” (Part 2, page 169)

In this passage, Griet’s increasingly limited agency is evident, as Vermeer demands that she remains still and silent without telling her why. This is especially significant since this is the beginning of her end; the painting Vermeer is trying to see is the same one that will propel her from the house. In some ways, this is the height of her immobility—she is without knowledge, without movement, without words and concerned only that she is “not giving him what he wanted. ”

“Pieter’s touch did not always repel me. Sometimes, if I looked over his shoulder at the sky, and found the colors besides white in a cloud, or thought of grinding lead white or massicot, my breasts and belly tingled, and I pressed against him. He was always pleased when I responded. He did not notice that I avoided looking at his face and hands” (Part 3, page 175)

This passage is an example of the way Griet uses her artistic vision, fostered by Vermeer, to generate sexual excitement with Pieter, and is another moment when she has agency even in the midst of being compelled to do something she does not want to do.

“‘He is an exceptional man,’ van Leeuwenhoek continued. ‘His eyes are worth a room full of gold. But sometimes he sees the world only as he wants it to be, not as it is. He does not understand the consequences for others of his point of view.

He thinks only of himself and his work, not of you. You must take care then—’ He stopped. My master’s footsteps were on the stairs. ‘Take care to do what, sir? ’ I whispered. ‘Take care to remain yourself. ’ I lifted my chin to him. ‘To remain a maid, sir? ’ ‘That is not what I mean. The women in his paintings—he traps them in his world. You can get lost there. ’ My master came into the room. ‘Griet, you have moved,’ he said. ‘I am sorry, sir. ’ I took up my position once more” (Part 3, page 186)

Van Leeuwenhoek’s assessment of Vermeer is key to our understanding of the costs of artistic genius to the people around him, particularly those who are dependent on him in some way.

Griet does not initially understand his warning that she should “take care to remain herself”, though it is underscored by Vermeer when he immediately puts her “back in her place”. Griet understands the warning much more clearly when the painting is finished and she is dismissed without any acknowledgement of her central role in the creation of his masterpiece.

“The painting was like none of his others. It was just of me, of my head and shoulders, with no tables or curtains, no windows or powder-brushes to soften and distract. He had painted me with my eyes wide, the light falling across my face but the left side of me in shadow. I was wearing blue and yellow and brown. The cloth wound round my head made me look not like myself, but like Griet from another town, even from another country altogether.

The background was black, making me appear very much alone, although I was clearly looking at someone. I seemed to be waiting for something I did not think would ever happen. He was right—the painting might satisfy van Ruijven, but something was missing from it. I knew before he did.

When I saw what was needed—that point of brightness he had used to catch the eye in other paintings, I shivered. This will be the end, I though. I was right” (Part 3, page 191)

The description of Griet in the painting recalls her earlier description of Vermeer himself when he first had her sit for the painting. Then, he stared at Griet and she thinks he “seemed to be waiting for something. ” The look that she saw in him then is mirrored back to her in the painting of herself. Also significant in this passage is how it recalls Griet’s own description of herself without her cap as “another Griet. ” In the painting, she is also a different Griet—one from “another town, even another country. ”

The first “other Griet” is one she is scared of being, one who might stand in alleys and do things with men. The Griet in the painting, however, does not seem to frighten her; she seems to be the Griet of possibilities, someone who is “waiting for something” that will never happen. The black background that makes her “appear very much alone” also underscores her uniqueness as a subject. As the painting itself is “like none of his others,” so Griet as a subject is “alone” in her significance. Finally, this passage shows us for the second time that Griet’s artistic eye is quicker than Vermeer’s. She sees almost immediately what the painting needs, while it will take Vermeer days to see it.

She also sees that what the painting needs will mean disaster for her. She will lose her job, at the very least, and her access to Vermeer and his painting. This insight is not something that Vermeer seems to ever come to.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 3, page 216)

 This is the second time Griet makes this statement, just after she walks out of the Vermeer household after the confrontation with Catharina over the painting and subsequently running to the eight-point star in Market Square. While, as suggested earlier, in the first instance, Griet could be considered both a thief and a child, this time we are left to wonder whether Griet can be seen as either a child or a thief, as she has left the Vermeer house with nothing but her own self, her childhood firmly behind her.

“It was easier with Pieter. He simply glanced up at me from his work. I nodded at him. He had decided long ago not to ask questions, even though he knew I had thoughts sometimes that I did not speak of. When he removed my cap on our wedding night and saw the holes in my ears he did not ask.

The holes were long healed now. All that was left of them were tiny buds of hard flesh I could feel only if I pressed the lobes hard between my fingers” (Part 4, page 222)

Though Pieter once promised Griet that she would “not always be a secret to” him (page 175)[/trx_quote], this passage illustrates that he has allowed Griet her privacy, much to the benefit of his marriage. The reference to him removing Griet’s cap on their wedding night also recalls this earlier moment; Pieter’s desire to know Griet’s secrets was the follow-up to his attempt to get his hands under her capage Like the holes in her ears, the “secret” kept from Pieter is a well-buried but integral part of Griet’s identity.

“He strode along the streets or across the square with his eyes fixed on a distant point—not rudely or deliberately, but as if he were in a different world. […] For a long time, I thought I might still matter to him. After a while, though, I admitted to myself that he had always cared more for the painting of me than for me. It grew easier to accept this when Jan was born. My son made me turn inward to my family, as I had done when I was a child, before I became a maid. I was so busy with him that I did not have time to look out and around me. With a baby in my arms I stopped walking round the eight-pointed star in the square and wondering what was at the end of each of its points.

When I saw my old master across the square my heart no longer squeezed itself like a fist. I no longer though of pearls and fur, nor longed to see one of his paintings” (Part 4, page 222–223)

In this passage, Griet recalls the slow process of disentangling her inner world from Vermeer and his artistic world. She lets go of the notion that he cared for her more easily when she becomes a mother.

This very brief reference to the role of motherhood in her transformation from Griet the maid and Vermeer’s assistant, to Pieter the butcher’s wife, makes a subtle nod to the tension between two kinds of creation—artistic and reproductive. Though Griet figures the experience of having a baby as a return to the family—she “turn[s] inward […] as [she had done when [she] was a child” (page 223)[/trx_quote]—it is also a kind of seeing that is opposed to Vermeer’s. Artistic creation requires “eyes fixed on a distant point […] as if he were in a different world” (page 222)[/trx_quote], while reproductive creation pulls her focus inward, which is also like “a different world,” but one that is exceptionally close.

“Two months before, I had been slicing tongue at the stall when I heard a woman waiting her turn say to another, ‘Yes, to think of dying and leaving eleven children and the widow in such debt. ’ I looked up and the knife cut deep into my palm. I did not feel the pain of it until I had asked, ‘Who are you speaking of? ’ and the woman replied, ‘The painter Vermeer is dead’” (Part 4, page 224)

This is the final reference to a knife in the book, and it is the first time a knife has actually been wielded in a way that causes harm. Before this moment, the knives in the novel have been threatening or utilitarian, but not physically harmful. Thus, it is significant that the one occasion Griet is hurt by a knife is by her own hand upon learning of Vermeer’s death. Griet slicing her hand also recalls her piercing of her ears. Overall, Griet’s wounds are self-inflicted, but not masochistic.

“I hesitated, then reached over and picked them upage They were cool and smooth to the touch, as I had remembered them, and in their grey and white curve a world was reflected. […] I took them” (Part 4, page 232)

This is the final view of the pearl earrings, and the “world” they reflect is the one that van Leeuwenhoek warned Griet about so many years earlier—Vermeer’s world, where she could have been trapped.

When Griet sells the earrings and the world they reflect, and keeps the coins she gets for them hidden from her family, she once again does things on her terms. Though Catharina believes Vermeer “has decided for” them both (page 232)[/trx_quote], Griet’s decision to sell them is her final rejection of the world he offered, where he was her “master” and she was bound to do his will.

“Pieter would be pleased with the rest of the coins, the debt now settled. I would not have cost him anything. A maid came free” (Part 4, page 233)

Another reason Griet sells the earrings is that it allows her to be equal to her husband, who has up until this point jokingly considered the Vermeers’ unpaid debt as the price he paid for his wife—fifteen guilders as “what a maid is worth” (page 220)[/trx_quote] By selling the earrings, she cancels the debt, essentially buying herself out of the figurative transaction between Vermeer and Pieter.

When Griet ends with, “A maid came free,” it recalls an earlier reference to van Ruijven’s careless disregard of his own maid, whom he impregnated and then dismissed, without any cost to himself. In this final iteration, “free’ means, for Griet, of her own free will, or in full ownership of herself and “free” to choose, rather than free to use and discard.

“As the woman turned to look at the man, a fold of her mantle caught the handle of the knife I had been using, knocking it off the table so that it spun across the floor. […] I stepped over and picked up the knife, polishing the blade on my apron before placing it back on the table. The knife brushed against the vegetables. I set a piece of carrot back in its place” (Part 1, page 4)

The woman and man in this passage are Catharina and Johannes Vermeer. Catharina is wearing the garment that figures prominently in many of Vermeer’s paintings and that will become an object of envy for Griet, as it represents for her Catharina’s privileged status as a middle-class woman and Vermeer’s wife. Significantly, it is this mantle that catches the knife, here representative of power, and sends it spinning across the floor.

The power that Griet has when safe at home in her mother’s kitchen, to feel some measure of control over her life is about to be upset, like the knife itself. That Griet picks up the knife (instead of Catharina, who sent it spinning in the first place)[/trx_quote], also illustrates their social status relative to one another and mirrors the final scene of Part 3, when Griet refuses to pick up another knife Catharina sends spinning across the floor.

“I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips. I had used knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center” (Part 1, page 5)

This passage is important as it is Griet’s attention to order and color that first attracts Vermeer’s eye. References to this seminal moment are made throughout the book.

“It was a simple picture of two small figures, a boy and an older girl. They were not playing as children usually did in tiles. They were simply walking along, and were like Frans and me whenever we walked together—clearly our father had thought of us as he painted it. The boy was a little ahead of the girl but had turned back to say something. His face was mischievous, his hair messy.

The girl wore her cap as I wore mine, not as most other girls did, with the ends tied under their chins or behind their necks. I favored a white cap that folded in a wide brim around my face, covering my hair completely and hanging down in points on each side of my face so that from the side my expression was hidden” (Part 1, page 11)

This passage describes Griet’s favorite tile painted by her father, the one she brings with her to the Vermeer household when she goes to live and work there. The tile is a symbol of her childhood and the unity of her family, both of which are becoming things of the past as Griet matures into adulthood. The passage also describes Griet’s cap and how she wears it; this is important because it introduces the importance of her hair as a symbol of her sexuality and agency. With her hair safely contained under her cap, she feels she has a measure of control over herself and her life. The cap also hides Griet’s “expression,” another facet of her desire to remain in control and less vulnerable to the people around her.

“Frans, Agnes, and I used to sit along that canal and throw things in—pebbles, sticks, once a broken tile—and imagine what they might touch on the bottom— not fish but creatures from our imagination, with many eyes, scales, hands and fins. Frans thought up the most interesting monsters. Agnes was the most frightened. I always stopped the game, too inclined to see things as they were to be able to think up things that were not” (Part 1, page 12)

This passage is one of several that illustrate Griet’s nostalgia for the innocence of childhood and the strong bond she has with her family. It also highlights Griet’s way of seeing the world—her inclination “to see things as they were” is, in part, what secures her the job cleaning Vermeer’s studio.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 1, page 74)

Griet makes this statement twice during the novel. On this occasion she makes it after taking a gift of meat to her family from Pieter the son, to whom she does not want to be beholden. Pieter has informed her that the quarantine in her family’s section of the city has been lifted, and Griet rushes home to find out that her sister has died of the plague. The phrasing of this statement asks us to decide whether Griet is running as a “thief” or as a “child.”

It is, in fact, both: she is “stealing” from Pieter in the sense that she has no intention of returning his affection (even though she will eventually marry him, at this moment in the book, she has resisted his expressions of romantic interest)[/trx_quote], and she is running as a child would, desperate to get back home and see her family, away from the symbolic threat of sexual maturity that Pieter represents.

“‘What color are those clouds? ’ ‘Why, white, sir. ’ He raised his eyebrows slightly. ‘Are they? ’ I glanced at them. ‘And grey. Perhaps it will snow. ’ ‘Come, Griet, you can do better than that. Think of your vegetables. ’ ‘My vegetables, sir? ’ He moved his head slightly. I was annoying him again. My jaw tightened. ‘Think of how you separated the whites. Your turnips and your onions—are they the same white? ’ Suddenly I understood. ‘No. The turnip has green in it, the onion yellow. ’ ‘Exactly. Now, what colors do you see in the clouds? ’

‘There is some blue in them,’ I said after studying them for a few minutes. “And—yellow as well. And there is some green! ” I became so excited I actually pointed. I had been looking at clouds all my life, but I felt as if I saw them for the first time at that moment. […] After that I could not stop looking at things” (Part 2, ppage 101–102)

This passage illustrates another of Vermeer’s “lessons” for Griet, about how to see like a painter, how to develop her own nascent artistic vision. He gives her more that her “wide eyes” can take in, and her delight is child-like.

“The colors themselves made up for the troubles I had hiding what I was doing. I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary—bones, white lead, madder, massicot—to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and other colors was magical” (Part 2, page 107–108)

Though grinding paints for Vermeer puts Griet into the position of having to lie to the majority of the people in his household, it is also another example of how her otherwise limited world is opened up through her association with Vermeer. As his assistant, she experiences things she would otherwise have no access to, and while most people might find the work of grinding colors to be tedious and difficult, for Griet, with her natural eye for color, it is, as she notes, “magical” (page 108)[/trx_quote]

“I grew used to being around him. Sometimes we stood side by side in the small room, me grinding white lead, him washing lapis or burning ochers in the fire. He said little to me. He was a quiet man. I did not speak either. It was peaceful then, with the light coming in through the window. When we were done we poured water from a pitcher over each other’s hands and scrubbed ourselves clean” (Part 2, page 108)

This passage illustrates the companionship that grows out of a shared purpose, and gives an almost-religious quality to their work that foreshadows Griet’s mother’s observation that Griet’s descriptions of Vermeer’s paintings makes them seem like “they could be of religious scenes” and gives them meanings they do “not ha e or deserve” (page 137)[/trx_quote], as well as Vermeer’s description of art as “the bridge between ourselves and God” (page 140)[/trx_quote]

“I liked sleeping in the attic. […] I felt alone there, perched high above the noisy household, able to see it from a distance. Rather like him. The best part, however, was that I could spend more time in the studio. Sometimes I wrapped myself in a blanket and crept down late at night when the house was still. I looked at the painting he was working on by candlelight, or opened a shutter a little to let in moonlight.

Sometimes I sat in the dark in one of the lion-head chairs pulled up to the table and rested my elbow on the blue and red table rug that covered it. I imagined wearing the yellow and black bodice and pearls, holding a glass of wine, sitting across the table from him” (Part 2, page 110–111)

This passage is important in that Griet places herself in two positions, neither of which she can inhabit in reality, but both appealing in their own ways. The first is that of Vermeer, seeing things “from a distance”, from his lofty perspective as an artist, “high above the noisy household. ” The second is that of a gentlewoman, possibly Vermeer’s wife, a woman who is Vermeer’s social peer.

The second position supports a view of the novel as the story of how Griet falls in love with and wants to be with Vermeer, while the first position reminds us that it may be just as true, if not more so, that rather than wanting to be with Vermeer, Griet actually wants to be like him and have the freedom to pursue her own artistic vision.

“Close to the Rietveld Canal there was an alley that Pieter guided me to, his hand at the small of my back. […] I stood against the wall and let Pieter kiss me. He was so eager that he bit my lips.

I did not cry out—I licked away the salty blood and looked over his shoulder at the wet brick wall opposite as he pushed himself against me. A raindrop fell into my eye” (page 121–122)

This is Griet’s first sexual experience, and it foreshadows the scene in Part Three when Vermeer pierces Griet’s swollen, infected earlobe with his wife’s pearl earring. In both scenes, Griet licks a salty liquid—blood from Pieter the butcher’s kiss and her own tears from Vermeer the painter’s caresses—and both are scenes of Griet being compelled to do something she doesn’t want to do.

“My hair was long and could not be tamed. When it was uncovered it seemed to belong to another Griet—a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man, who was not so calm and quiet and clean. A Griet like the women who dared to bare their heads. That was why I kept my hair completely hidden—so that there would be no trace of that Griet” (Part 2, page 122)

Griet’s explanation for why she keeps her hair so well-covered is offered to the reader in response to Pieter’s attempts to put his hands under her cap and gain access to it, though it is not an explanation she offers to Pieter. Here, she explicitly links her hair to her sexuality.

Griet with her hair uncovered is “a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man. ” Given that that is what she just did, only with her hair fully covered, leaves the reader to wonder whether the Griet who would leave her hair uncovered is really so well-hidden. This passage also foreshadows Griet’s description of the painting of her, when she sees herself as “Griet from another town, even from another country altogether” (page 191)[/trx_quote]

“’There is something dangerous about your description of his paintings,’ she explained. ‘From the way you talk they could be of religious scenes. It is as if the woman you describe is the Virgin Mary when she is just a woman, writing a letter. You give the painting meaning that it does not have or deserve. There are thousands of paintings in Delft. You can see them everywhere, hanging in a tavern as readily as in a rich man’s house’” (Part 2, page 137)

At first, it appears as though Griet’s mother’s reservations about Vermeer’s paintings are religiously motivated; however, her quibble is not with Vermeer’s paintings themselves but with her daughter’s descriptions of them. This is another example of the growing rift between Griet and her parents that is the result of her increasing attraction to Vermeer. It is also a comment on the meaning and function of art that foreshadows Vermeer’s own description in response to Griet’s question whether his paintings are “Catholic. ”

“’A painting in a church is like a candle in a dark room—we use it to see better. It is the bridge between ourselves and God. But it is not a Protestant candle or a Catholic candle. It is simply a candle. ’ […] ‘There is a difference between Catholic and Protestant attitudes to painting,’ he explained as he worked, ‘but it is not necessarily as great as you may think.

Paintings may serve a spiritual purpose for Catholics, but remember too that Protestants see God everywhere, in everything. By painting everyday things—tables and chairs, bowls and pitchers, soldiers and maids—are they not celebrating God’s creation as well? ’”(Part 2, page 140)

Vermeer’s answer to Griet’s question of whether his paintings are “Catholic” is also a comment on the nature of art as a way to partake of the divine and a validation of the almost holy way that Griet unintentionally describes Vermeer’s paintings which her mother criticizes.

“Years of hauling water, wringing out clothes, scrubbing floors, emptying chamberpots, with no chance of beauty or color or light in my life, stretched before me like a landscape of flat land where, a long way off, the sea is visible but can never be reached” (Part 2, page 142)

This passage describes Griet’s response to the prospect of no longer being Vermeer’s assistant and shows us just how bleak she feels her prospects to be, shedding more light onto why she is willing to take significant risks to continue working with him. For someone like Griet, whose eye for beauty and color is especially sensitive, the prospect of life as a maid’s seems particularly crushing.

“’You’re getting caught where you should not be, Griet,’ Pieter said more kindly. ‘Theirs is not your world. ’ I opened my eyes and took a step back from him. ‘I came here to explain that the rumor is false, not to be accused by you. Now I’m sorry I bothered. ’ ‘Don’t be. I do believe you. ’ He sighed. ‘But you have little power over what happens to you. Surely you can see that? ’ When I did not answer he added, ‘If your master did want to paint a picture of you and van Ruijven, do you really think you could say no? ’ It was a question I had asked myself but found no answer to.

‘Thank you for reminding me of how helpless I am,’ I replied tartly. ‘You wouldn’t be, with me. We could run our own business, earn our own money, rule our own lives. Isn’t that what you want? ’ I looked at him, at his bright blue eyes, his yellow curls, his eager face. I was a fool even to hesitate. ‘I didn’t come here to talk about this. I’m too young yet. ’ I used the old excuse. Someday I would be too old to use it. ‘I never know what you’re thinking, Griet,’ he tried again. ‘You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes. ’

I smoothed my cap, checking with my fingers for stray hairs. ‘All I mean to say is that there is no painting,’ I declared, ignoring what he had just said” (Part 2, ppage 159–160)

This conversation between Griet and Pieter is notable for the accuracy of Pieter’s perspective, he sees that Griet is getting caught up in a world of Vermeer’s creation, where she “should not be,” and understands that she has “little power over what happens to her. ” Griet’s declaration that “there is no painting” is coupled with her rejection of Pieter’s vision of their life together—implied by the smoothing of her capage However, just as she is proved wrong about the painting, she is also proved wrong about Pieter.

“He got another of the lion-head chairs and set it close to his easel but sideways so it faced the window. ‘Sit here. ’ ‘What do you want, sir? ’ I asked, sitting. I was puzzled—we never 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 swallowed. 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” (Part 2, page 169)

In this passage, Griet’s increasingly limited agency is evident, as Vermeer demands that she remains still and silent without telling her why. This is especially significant since this is the beginning of her end; the painting Vermeer is trying to see is the same one that will propel her from the house. In some ways, this is the height of her immobility—she is without knowledge, without movement, without words and concerned only that she is “not giving him what he wanted. ”

“Pieter’s touch did not always repel me. Sometimes, if I looked over his shoulder at the sky, and found the colors besides white in a cloud, or thought of grinding lead white or massicot, my breasts and belly tingled, and I pressed against him. He was always pleased when I responded. He did not notice that I avoided looking at his face and hands” (Part 3, page 175)

This passage is an example of the way Griet uses her artistic vision, fostered by Vermeer, to generate sexual excitement with Pieter, and is another moment when she has agency even in the midst of being compelled to do something she does not want to do.

“‘He is an exceptional man,’ van Leeuwenhoek continued. ‘His eyes are worth a room full of gold. But sometimes he sees the world only as he wants it to be, not as it is. He does not understand the consequences for others of his point of view.

He thinks only of himself and his work, not of you. You must take care then—’ He stopped. My master’s footsteps were on the stairs. ‘Take care to do what, sir? ’ I whispered. ‘Take care to remain yourself. ’ I lifted my chin to him. ‘To remain a maid, sir? ’ ‘That is not what I mean. The women in his paintings—he traps them in his world. You can get lost there. ’ My master came into the room. ‘Griet, you have moved,’ he said. ‘I am sorry, sir. ’ I took up my position once more” (Part 3, page 186)

Van Leeuwenhoek’s assessment of Vermeer is key to our understanding of the costs of artistic genius to the people around him, particularly those who are dependent on him in some way.

Griet does not initially understand his warning that she should “take care to remain herself”, though it is underscored by Vermeer when he immediately puts her “back in her place”. Griet understands the warning much more clearly when the painting is finished and she is dismissed without any acknowledgement of her central role in the creation of his masterpiece.

“The painting was like none of his others. It was just of me, of my head and shoulders, with no tables or curtains, no windows or powder-brushes to soften and distract. He had painted me with my eyes wide, the light falling across my face but the left side of me in shadow. I was wearing blue and yellow and brown. The cloth wound round my head made me look not like myself, but like Griet from another town, even from another country altogether.

The background was black, making me appear very much alone, although I was clearly looking at someone. I seemed to be waiting for something I did not think would ever happen. He was right—the painting might satisfy van Ruijven, but something was missing from it. I knew before he did.

When I saw what was needed—that point of brightness he had used to catch the eye in other paintings, I shivered. This will be the end, I though. I was right” (Part 3, page 191)

The description of Griet in the painting recalls her earlier description of Vermeer himself when he first had her sit for the painting. Then, he stared at Griet and she thinks he “seemed to be waiting for something. ” The look that she saw in him then is mirrored back to her in the painting of herself. Also significant in this passage is how it recalls Griet’s own description of herself without her cap as “another Griet. ” In the painting, she is also a different Griet—one from “another town, even another country. ”

The first “other Griet” is one she is scared of being, one who might stand in alleys and do things with men. The Griet in the painting, however, does not seem to frighten her; she seems to be the Griet of possibilities, someone who is “waiting for something” that will never happen. The black background that makes her “appear very much alone” also underscores her uniqueness as a subject. As the painting itself is “like none of his others,” so Griet as a subject is “alone” in her significance. Finally, this passage shows us for the second time that Griet’s artistic eye is quicker than Vermeer’s. She sees almost immediately what the painting needs, while it will take Vermeer days to see it.

She also sees that what the painting needs will mean disaster for her. She will lose her job, at the very least, and her access to Vermeer and his painting. This insight is not something that Vermeer seems to ever come to.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 3, page 216)

 This is the second time Griet makes this statement, just after she walks out of the Vermeer household after the confrontation with Catharina over the painting and subsequently running to the eight-point star in Market Square. While, as suggested earlier, in the first instance, Griet could be considered both a thief and a child, this time we are left to wonder whether Griet can be seen as either a child or a thief, as she has left the Vermeer house with nothing but her own self, her childhood firmly behind her.

“It was easier with Pieter. He simply glanced up at me from his work. I nodded at him. He had decided long ago not to ask questions, even though he knew I had thoughts sometimes that I did not speak of. When he removed my cap on our wedding night and saw the holes in my ears he did not ask.

The holes were long healed now. All that was left of them were tiny buds of hard flesh I could feel only if I pressed the lobes hard between my fingers” (Part 4, page 222)

Though Pieter once promised Griet that she would “not always be a secret to” him (page 175)[/trx_quote], this passage illustrates that he has allowed Griet her privacy, much to the benefit of his marriage. The reference to him removing Griet’s cap on their wedding night also recalls this earlier moment; Pieter’s desire to know Griet’s secrets was the follow-up to his attempt to get his hands under her capage Like the holes in her ears, the “secret” kept from Pieter is a well-buried but integral part of Griet’s identity.

“He strode along the streets or across the square with his eyes fixed on a distant point—not rudely or deliberately, but as if he were in a different world. […] For a long time, I thought I might still matter to him. After a while, though, I admitted to myself that he had always cared more for the painting of me than for me. It grew easier to accept this when Jan was born. My son made me turn inward to my family, as I had done when I was a child, before I became a maid. I was so busy with him that I did not have time to look out and around me. With a baby in my arms I stopped walking round the eight-pointed star in the square and wondering what was at the end of each of its points.

When I saw my old master across the square my heart no longer squeezed itself like a fist. I no longer though of pearls and fur, nor longed to see one of his paintings” (Part 4, page 222–223)

In this passage, Griet recalls the slow process of disentangling her inner world from Vermeer and his artistic world. She lets go of the notion that he cared for her more easily when she becomes a mother.

This very brief reference to the role of motherhood in her transformation from Griet the maid and Vermeer’s assistant, to Pieter the butcher’s wife, makes a subtle nod to the tension between two kinds of creation—artistic and reproductive. Though Griet figures the experience of having a baby as a return to the family—she “turn[s] inward […] as [she had done when [she] was a child” (page 223)[/trx_quote]—it is also a kind of seeing that is opposed to Vermeer’s. Artistic creation requires “eyes fixed on a distant point […] as if he were in a different world” (page 222)[/trx_quote], while reproductive creation pulls her focus inward, which is also like “a different world,” but one that is exceptionally close.

“Two months before, I had been slicing tongue at the stall when I heard a woman waiting her turn say to another, ‘Yes, to think of dying and leaving eleven children and the widow in such debt. ’ I looked up and the knife cut deep into my palm. I did not feel the pain of it until I had asked, ‘Who are you speaking of? ’ and the woman replied, ‘The painter Vermeer is dead’” (Part 4, page 224)

This is the final reference to a knife in the book, and it is the first time a knife has actually been wielded in a way that causes harm. Before this moment, the knives in the novel have been threatening or utilitarian, but not physically harmful. Thus, it is significant that the one occasion Griet is hurt by a knife is by her own hand upon learning of Vermeer’s death. Griet slicing her hand also recalls her piercing of her ears. Overall, Griet’s wounds are self-inflicted, but not masochistic.

“I hesitated, then reached over and picked them upage They were cool and smooth to the touch, as I had remembered them, and in their grey and white curve a world was reflected. […] I took them” (Part 4, page 232)

This is the final view of the pearl earrings, and the “world” they reflect is the one that van Leeuwenhoek warned Griet about so many years earlier—Vermeer’s world, where she could have been trapped.

When Griet sells the earrings and the world they reflect, and keeps the coins she gets for them hidden from her family, she once again does things on her terms. Though Catharina believes Vermeer “has decided for” them both (page 232)[/trx_quote], Griet’s decision to sell them is her final rejection of the world he offered, where he was her “master” and she was bound to do his will.

“Pieter would be pleased with the rest of the coins, the debt now settled. I would not have cost him anything. A maid came free” (Part 4, page 233)

Another reason Griet sells the earrings is that it allows her to be equal to her husband, who has up until this point jokingly considered the Vermeers’ unpaid debt as the price he paid for his wife—fifteen guilders as “what a maid is worth” (page 220)[/trx_quote] By selling the earrings, she cancels the debt, essentially buying herself out of the figurative transaction between Vermeer and Pieter.

When Griet ends with, “A maid came free,” it recalls an earlier reference to van Ruijven’s careless disregard of his own maid, whom he impregnated and then dismissed, without any cost to himself. In this final iteration, “free’ means, for Griet, of her own free will, or in full ownership of herself and “free” to choose, rather than free to use and discard.

“As the woman turned to look at the man, a fold of her mantle caught the handle of the knife I had been using, knocking it off the table so that it spun across the floor. […] I stepped over and picked up the knife, polishing the blade on my apron before placing it back on the table. The knife brushed against the vegetables. I set a piece of carrot back in its place” (Part 1, page 4)

The woman and man in this passage are Catharina and Johannes Vermeer. Catharina is wearing the garment that figures prominently in many of Vermeer’s paintings and that will become an object of envy for Griet, as it represents for her Catharina’s privileged status as a middle-class woman and Vermeer’s wife. Significantly, it is this mantle that catches the knife, here representative of power, and sends it spinning across the floor.

The power that Griet has when safe at home in her mother’s kitchen, to feel some measure of control over her life is about to be upset, like the knife itself. That Griet picks up the knife (instead of Catharina, who sent it spinning in the first place)[/trx_quote], also illustrates their social status relative to one another and mirrors the final scene of Part 3, when Griet refuses to pick up another knife Catharina sends spinning across the floor.

“I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips. I had used knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disc in the center” (Part 1, page 5)

This passage is important as it is Griet’s attention to order and color that first attracts Vermeer’s eye. References to this seminal moment are made throughout the book.

“It was a simple picture of two small figures, a boy and an older girl. They were not playing as children usually did in tiles. They were simply walking along, and were like Frans and me whenever we walked together—clearly our father had thought of us as he painted it. The boy was a little ahead of the girl but had turned back to say something. His face was mischievous, his hair messy.

The girl wore her cap as I wore mine, not as most other girls did, with the ends tied under their chins or behind their necks. I favored a white cap that folded in a wide brim around my face, covering my hair completely and hanging down in points on each side of my face so that from the side my expression was hidden” (Part 1, page 11)

This passage describes Griet’s favorite tile painted by her father, the one she brings with her to the Vermeer household when she goes to live and work there. The tile is a symbol of her childhood and the unity of her family, both of which are becoming things of the past as Griet matures into adulthood. The passage also describes Griet’s cap and how she wears it; this is important because it introduces the importance of her hair as a symbol of her sexuality and agency. With her hair safely contained under her cap, she feels she has a measure of control over herself and her life. The cap also hides Griet’s “expression,” another facet of her desire to remain in control and less vulnerable to the people around her.

“Frans, Agnes, and I used to sit along that canal and throw things in—pebbles, sticks, once a broken tile—and imagine what they might touch on the bottom— not fish but creatures from our imagination, with many eyes, scales, hands and fins. Frans thought up the most interesting monsters. Agnes was the most frightened. I always stopped the game, too inclined to see things as they were to be able to think up things that were not” (Part 1, page 12)

This passage is one of several that illustrate Griet’s nostalgia for the innocence of childhood and the strong bond she has with her family. It also highlights Griet’s way of seeing the world—her inclination “to see things as they were” is, in part, what secures her the job cleaning Vermeer’s studio.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 1, page 74)

Griet makes this statement twice during the novel. On this occasion she makes it after taking a gift of meat to her family from Pieter the son, to whom she does not want to be beholden. Pieter has informed her that the quarantine in her family’s section of the city has been lifted, and Griet rushes home to find out that her sister has died of the plague. The phrasing of this statement asks us to decide whether Griet is running as a “thief” or as a “child.”

It is, in fact, both: she is “stealing” from Pieter in the sense that she has no intention of returning his affection (even though she will eventually marry him, at this moment in the book, she has resisted his expressions of romantic interest)[/trx_quote], and she is running as a child would, desperate to get back home and see her family, away from the symbolic threat of sexual maturity that Pieter represents.

“‘What color are those clouds? ’ ‘Why, white, sir. ’ He raised his eyebrows slightly. ‘Are they? ’ I glanced at them. ‘And grey. Perhaps it will snow. ’ ‘Come, Griet, you can do better than that. Think of your vegetables. ’ ‘My vegetables, sir? ’ He moved his head slightly. I was annoying him again. My jaw tightened. ‘Think of how you separated the whites. Your turnips and your onions—are they the same white? ’ Suddenly I understood. ‘No. The turnip has green in it, the onion yellow. ’ ‘Exactly. Now, what colors do you see in the clouds? ’

‘There is some blue in them,’ I said after studying them for a few minutes. “And—yellow as well. And there is some green! ” I became so excited I actually pointed. I had been looking at clouds all my life, but I felt as if I saw them for the first time at that moment. […] After that I could not stop looking at things” (Part 2, ppage 101–102)

This passage illustrates another of Vermeer’s “lessons” for Griet, about how to see like a painter, how to develop her own nascent artistic vision. He gives her more that her “wide eyes” can take in, and her delight is child-like.

“The colors themselves made up for the troubles I had hiding what I was doing. I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary—bones, white lead, madder, massicot—to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and other colors was magical” (Part 2, page 107–108)

Though grinding paints for Vermeer puts Griet into the position of having to lie to the majority of the people in his household, it is also another example of how her otherwise limited world is opened up through her association with Vermeer. As his assistant, she experiences things she would otherwise have no access to, and while most people might find the work of grinding colors to be tedious and difficult, for Griet, with her natural eye for color, it is, as she notes, “magical” (page 108)[/trx_quote]

“I grew used to being around him. Sometimes we stood side by side in the small room, me grinding white lead, him washing lapis or burning ochers in the fire. He said little to me. He was a quiet man. I did not speak either. It was peaceful then, with the light coming in through the window. When we were done we poured water from a pitcher over each other’s hands and scrubbed ourselves clean” (Part 2, page 108)

This passage illustrates the companionship that grows out of a shared purpose, and gives an almost-religious quality to their work that foreshadows Griet’s mother’s observation that Griet’s descriptions of Vermeer’s paintings makes them seem like “they could be of religious scenes” and gives them meanings they do “not ha e or deserve” (page 137)[/trx_quote], as well as Vermeer’s description of art as “the bridge between ourselves and God” (page 140)[/trx_quote]

“I liked sleeping in the attic. […] I felt alone there, perched high above the noisy household, able to see it from a distance. Rather like him. The best part, however, was that I could spend more time in the studio. Sometimes I wrapped myself in a blanket and crept down late at night when the house was still. I looked at the painting he was working on by candlelight, or opened a shutter a little to let in moonlight.

Sometimes I sat in the dark in one of the lion-head chairs pulled up to the table and rested my elbow on the blue and red table rug that covered it. I imagined wearing the yellow and black bodice and pearls, holding a glass of wine, sitting across the table from him” (Part 2, page 110–111)

This passage is important in that Griet places herself in two positions, neither of which she can inhabit in reality, but both appealing in their own ways. The first is that of Vermeer, seeing things “from a distance”, from his lofty perspective as an artist, “high above the noisy household. ” The second is that of a gentlewoman, possibly Vermeer’s wife, a woman who is Vermeer’s social peer.

The second position supports a view of the novel as the story of how Griet falls in love with and wants to be with Vermeer, while the first position reminds us that it may be just as true, if not more so, that rather than wanting to be with Vermeer, Griet actually wants to be like him and have the freedom to pursue her own artistic vision.

“Close to the Rietveld Canal there was an alley that Pieter guided me to, his hand at the small of my back. […] I stood against the wall and let Pieter kiss me. He was so eager that he bit my lips.

I did not cry out—I licked away the salty blood and looked over his shoulder at the wet brick wall opposite as he pushed himself against me. A raindrop fell into my eye” (page 121–122)

This is Griet’s first sexual experience, and it foreshadows the scene in Part Three when Vermeer pierces Griet’s swollen, infected earlobe with his wife’s pearl earring. In both scenes, Griet licks a salty liquid—blood from Pieter the butcher’s kiss and her own tears from Vermeer the painter’s caresses—and both are scenes of Griet being compelled to do something she doesn’t want to do.

“My hair was long and could not be tamed. When it was uncovered it seemed to belong to another Griet—a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man, who was not so calm and quiet and clean. A Griet like the women who dared to bare their heads. That was why I kept my hair completely hidden—so that there would be no trace of that Griet” (Part 2, page 122)

Griet’s explanation for why she keeps her hair so well-covered is offered to the reader in response to Pieter’s attempts to put his hands under her cap and gain access to it, though it is not an explanation she offers to Pieter. Here, she explicitly links her hair to her sexuality.

Griet with her hair uncovered is “a Griet who would stand in an alley alone with a man. ” Given that that is what she just did, only with her hair fully covered, leaves the reader to wonder whether the Griet who would leave her hair uncovered is really so well-hidden. This passage also foreshadows Griet’s description of the painting of her, when she sees herself as “Griet from another town, even from another country altogether” (page 191)[/trx_quote]

“’There is something dangerous about your description of his paintings,’ she explained. ‘From the way you talk they could be of religious scenes. It is as if the woman you describe is the Virgin Mary when she is just a woman, writing a letter. You give the painting meaning that it does not have or deserve. There are thousands of paintings in Delft. You can see them everywhere, hanging in a tavern as readily as in a rich man’s house’” (Part 2, page 137)

At first, it appears as though Griet’s mother’s reservations about Vermeer’s paintings are religiously motivated; however, her quibble is not with Vermeer’s paintings themselves but with her daughter’s descriptions of them. This is another example of the growing rift between Griet and her parents that is the result of her increasing attraction to Vermeer. It is also a comment on the meaning and function of art that foreshadows Vermeer’s own description in response to Griet’s question whether his paintings are “Catholic. ”

“’A painting in a church is like a candle in a dark room—we use it to see better. It is the bridge between ourselves and God. But it is not a Protestant candle or a Catholic candle. It is simply a candle. ’ […] ‘There is a difference between Catholic and Protestant attitudes to painting,’ he explained as he worked, ‘but it is not necessarily as great as you may think.

Paintings may serve a spiritual purpose for Catholics, but remember too that Protestants see God everywhere, in everything. By painting everyday things—tables and chairs, bowls and pitchers, soldiers and maids—are they not celebrating God’s creation as well? ’”(Part 2, page 140)

Vermeer’s answer to Griet’s question of whether his paintings are “Catholic” is also a comment on the nature of art as a way to partake of the divine and a validation of the almost holy way that Griet unintentionally describes Vermeer’s paintings which her mother criticizes.

“Years of hauling water, wringing out clothes, scrubbing floors, emptying chamberpots, with no chance of beauty or color or light in my life, stretched before me like a landscape of flat land where, a long way off, the sea is visible but can never be reached” (Part 2, page 142)

This passage describes Griet’s response to the prospect of no longer being Vermeer’s assistant and shows us just how bleak she feels her prospects to be, shedding more light onto why she is willing to take significant risks to continue working with him. For someone like Griet, whose eye for beauty and color is especially sensitive, the prospect of life as a maid’s seems particularly crushing.

“’You’re getting caught where you should not be, Griet,’ Pieter said more kindly. ‘Theirs is not your world. ’ I opened my eyes and took a step back from him. ‘I came here to explain that the rumor is false, not to be accused by you. Now I’m sorry I bothered. ’ ‘Don’t be. I do believe you. ’ He sighed. ‘But you have little power over what happens to you. Surely you can see that? ’ When I did not answer he added, ‘If your master did want to paint a picture of you and van Ruijven, do you really think you could say no? ’ It was a question I had asked myself but found no answer to.

‘Thank you for reminding me of how helpless I am,’ I replied tartly. ‘You wouldn’t be, with me. We could run our own business, earn our own money, rule our own lives. Isn’t that what you want? ’ I looked at him, at his bright blue eyes, his yellow curls, his eager face. I was a fool even to hesitate. ‘I didn’t come here to talk about this. I’m too young yet. ’ I used the old excuse. Someday I would be too old to use it. ‘I never know what you’re thinking, Griet,’ he tried again. ‘You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes. ’

I smoothed my cap, checking with my fingers for stray hairs. ‘All I mean to say is that there is no painting,’ I declared, ignoring what he had just said” (Part 2, ppage 159–160)

This conversation between Griet and Pieter is notable for the accuracy of Pieter’s perspective, he sees that Griet is getting caught up in a world of Vermeer’s creation, where she “should not be,” and understands that she has “little power over what happens to her. ” Griet’s declaration that “there is no painting” is coupled with her rejection of Pieter’s vision of their life together—implied by the smoothing of her capage However, just as she is proved wrong about the painting, she is also proved wrong about Pieter.

“He got another of the lion-head chairs and set it close to his easel but sideways so it faced the window. ‘Sit here. ’ ‘What do you want, sir? ’ I asked, sitting. I was puzzled—we never 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 swallowed. 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” (Part 2, page 169)

In this passage, Griet’s increasingly limited agency is evident, as Vermeer demands that she remains still and silent without telling her why. This is especially significant since this is the beginning of her end; the painting Vermeer is trying to see is the same one that will propel her from the house. In some ways, this is the height of her immobility—she is without knowledge, without movement, without words and concerned only that she is “not giving him what he wanted. ”

“Pieter’s touch did not always repel me. Sometimes, if I looked over his shoulder at the sky, and found the colors besides white in a cloud, or thought of grinding lead white or massicot, my breasts and belly tingled, and I pressed against him. He was always pleased when I responded. He did not notice that I avoided looking at his face and hands” (Part 3, page 175)

This passage is an example of the way Griet uses her artistic vision, fostered by Vermeer, to generate sexual excitement with Pieter, and is another moment when she has agency even in the midst of being compelled to do something she does not want to do.

“‘He is an exceptional man,’ van Leeuwenhoek continued. ‘His eyes are worth a room full of gold. But sometimes he sees the world only as he wants it to be, not as it is. He does not understand the consequences for others of his point of view.

He thinks only of himself and his work, not of you. You must take care then—’ He stopped. My master’s footsteps were on the stairs. ‘Take care to do what, sir? ’ I whispered. ‘Take care to remain yourself. ’ I lifted my chin to him. ‘To remain a maid, sir? ’ ‘That is not what I mean. The women in his paintings—he traps them in his world. You can get lost there. ’ My master came into the room. ‘Griet, you have moved,’ he said. ‘I am sorry, sir. ’ I took up my position once more” (Part 3, page 186)

Van Leeuwenhoek’s assessment of Vermeer is key to our understanding of the costs of artistic genius to the people around him, particularly those who are dependent on him in some way.

Griet does not initially understand his warning that she should “take care to remain herself”, though it is underscored by Vermeer when he immediately puts her “back in her place”. Griet understands the warning much more clearly when the painting is finished and she is dismissed without any acknowledgement of her central role in the creation of his masterpiece.

“The painting was like none of his others. It was just of me, of my head and shoulders, with no tables or curtains, no windows or powder-brushes to soften and distract. He had painted me with my eyes wide, the light falling across my face but the left side of me in shadow. I was wearing blue and yellow and brown. The cloth wound round my head made me look not like myself, but like Griet from another town, even from another country altogether.

The background was black, making me appear very much alone, although I was clearly looking at someone. I seemed to be waiting for something I did not think would ever happen. He was right—the painting might satisfy van Ruijven, but something was missing from it. I knew before he did.

When I saw what was needed—that point of brightness he had used to catch the eye in other paintings, I shivered. This will be the end, I though. I was right” (Part 3, page 191)

The description of Griet in the painting recalls her earlier description of Vermeer himself when he first had her sit for the painting. Then, he stared at Griet and she thinks he “seemed to be waiting for something. ” The look that she saw in him then is mirrored back to her in the painting of herself. Also significant in this passage is how it recalls Griet’s own description of herself without her cap as “another Griet. ” In the painting, she is also a different Griet—one from “another town, even another country. ”

The first “other Griet” is one she is scared of being, one who might stand in alleys and do things with men. The Griet in the painting, however, does not seem to frighten her; she seems to be the Griet of possibilities, someone who is “waiting for something” that will never happen. The black background that makes her “appear very much alone” also underscores her uniqueness as a subject. As the painting itself is “like none of his others,” so Griet as a subject is “alone” in her significance. Finally, this passage shows us for the second time that Griet’s artistic eye is quicker than Vermeer’s. She sees almost immediately what the painting needs, while it will take Vermeer days to see it.

She also sees that what the painting needs will mean disaster for her. She will lose her job, at the very least, and her access to Vermeer and his painting. This insight is not something that Vermeer seems to ever come to.

“Only thieves and children run” (Part 3, page 216)

 This is the second time Griet makes this statement, just after she walks out of the Vermeer household after the confrontation with Catharina over the painting and subsequently running to the eight-point star in Market Square. While, as suggested earlier, in the first instance, Griet could be considered both a thief and a child, this time we are left to wonder whether Griet can be seen as either a child or a thief, as she has left the Vermeer house with nothing but her own self, her childhood firmly behind her.

“It was easier with Pieter. He simply glanced up at me from his work. I nodded at him. He had decided long ago not to ask questions, even though he knew I had thoughts sometimes that I did not speak of. When he removed my cap on our wedding night and saw the holes in my ears he did not ask.

The holes were long healed now. All that was left of them were tiny buds of hard flesh I could feel only if I pressed the lobes hard between my fingers” (Part 4, page 222)

Though Pieter once promised Griet that she would “not always be a secret to” him (page 175)[/trx_quote], this passage illustrates that he has allowed Griet her privacy, much to the benefit of his marriage. The reference to him removing Griet’s cap on their wedding night also recalls this earlier moment; Pieter’s desire to know Griet’s secrets was the follow-up to his attempt to get his hands under her capage Like the holes in her ears, the “secret” kept from Pieter is a well-buried but integral part of Griet’s identity.

“He strode along the streets or across the square with his eyes fixed on a distant point—not rudely or deliberately, but as if he were in a different world. […] For a long time, I thought I might still matter to him. After a while, though, I admitted to myself that he had always cared more for the painting of me than for me. It grew easier to accept this when Jan was born. My son made me turn inward to my family, as I had done when I was a child, before I became a maid. I was so busy with him that I did not have time to look out and around me. With a baby in my arms I stopped walking round the eight-pointed star in the square and wondering what was at the end of each of its points.

When I saw my old master across the square my heart no longer squeezed itself like a fist. I no longer though of pearls and fur, nor longed to see one of his paintings” (Part 4, page 222–223)

In this passage, Griet recalls the slow process of disentangling her inner world from Vermeer and his artistic world. She lets go of the notion that he cared for her more easily when she becomes a mother.

This very brief reference to the role of motherhood in her transformation from Griet the maid and Vermeer’s assistant, to Pieter the butcher’s wife, makes a subtle nod to the tension between two kinds of creation—artistic and reproductive. Though Griet figures the experience of having a baby as a return to the family—she “turn[s] inward […] as [she had done when [she] was a child” (page 223)[/trx_quote]—it is also a kind of seeing that is opposed to Vermeer’s. Artistic creation requires “eyes fixed on a distant point […] as if he were in a different world” (page 222)[/trx_quote], while reproductive creation pulls her focus inward, which is also like “a different world,” but one that is exceptionally close.

“Two months before, I had been slicing tongue at the stall when I heard a woman waiting her turn say to another, ‘Yes, to think of dying and leaving eleven children and the widow in such debt. ’ I looked up and the knife cut deep into my palm. I did not feel the pain of it until I had asked, ‘Who are you speaking of? ’ and the woman replied, ‘The painter Vermeer is dead’” (Part 4, page 224)

This is the final reference to a knife in the book, and it is the first time a knife has actually been wielded in a way that causes harm. Before this moment, the knives in the novel have been threatening or utilitarian, but not physically harmful. Thus, it is significant that the one occasion Griet is hurt by a knife is by her own hand upon learning of Vermeer’s death. Griet slicing her hand also recalls her piercing of her ears. Overall, Griet’s wounds are self-inflicted, but not masochistic.

“I hesitated, then reached over and picked them upage They were cool and smooth to the touch, as I had remembered them, and in their grey and white curve a world was reflected. […] I took them” (Part 4, page 232)

This is the final view of the pearl earrings, and the “world” they reflect is the one that van Leeuwenhoek warned Griet about so many years earlier—Vermeer’s world, where she could have been trapped.

When Griet sells the earrings and the world they reflect, and keeps the coins she gets for them hidden from her family, she once again does things on her terms. Though Catharina believes Vermeer “has decided for” them both (page 232)[/trx_quote], Griet’s decision to sell them is her final rejection of the world he offered, where he was her “master” and she was bound to do his will.

“Pieter would be pleased with the rest of the coins, the debt now settled. I would not have cost him anything. A maid came free” (Part 4, page 233)

Another reason Griet sells the earrings is that it allows her to be equal to her husband, who has up until this point jokingly considered the Vermeers’ unpaid debt as the price he paid for his wife—fifteen guilders as “what a maid is worth” (page 220)[/trx_quote] By selling the earrings, she cancels the debt, essentially buying herself out of the figurative transaction between Vermeer and Pieter.

When Griet ends with, “A maid came free,” it recalls an earlier reference to van Ruijven’s careless disregard of his own maid, whom he impregnated and then dismissed, without any cost to himself. In this final iteration, “free’ means, for Griet, of her own free will, or in full ownership of herself and “free” to choose, rather than free to use and discard.

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