“The Price of A Maid”: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chavalier

“The Price of A Maid”: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chavalier

“He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face” – Griet

I have read this book about three times now. I think it’s fascinating how Tracy Chavalier thought of Griet’s story by looking at Vermeer’s painting. Every time I read this book, I am amazed by how Chavalier herself seems to be the true artist in this book from the way she paints the scenes for readers. For example, the story begins at Griet’s house, when she is about to meet Johannes Vermeer and his wife for the first time. Griet is chopping vegetables in her kitchen when she hears voices outside her door, “…a woman’s, bright as polished brass, and a man’s, low and dark like the wood of the table [she] was working on” (3). In their voices, she hears “rich carpets…books and pearls and fur” (3), while in her mother’s voice, she hears “a cooking pot, a flagon” (3). It is the way Chavalier phrases things, like how Vermeer speaks his wife’s name “as if he held cinnamon in his mouth” (4) that draws me to this book.

What stands out to me the most is the story behind the earrings Griet wears in the painting. It didn’t occur to me in the past, but for some reason, I realized how unhappy I was for Griet and how her story turned out. When Catharina sees her husband’s painting of Griet, she raises hell, as everyone expected her to. She turns to her husband and asks, “Why have you never painted me?” and he says to her, “You and the children are not a part of this world. You are not meant to be” (215). Even though he loves her, and speaks her name as if he held cinnamon in his mouth, he seems to have a clear boundary between the world that belongs to his paintings, and the world that doesn’t. Therefore, despite the strong feelings Griet has for him, in Vermeer’s eyes, Griet may have just been a maid, albeit an interesting one. When Vermeer asked her to wear his wife’s earrings for the painting, Griet had refused, saying “Maids do not wear pearls” (194). To which Vermeer replied, “You know that the painting needs it, the light that the pearl reflects. It won’t be complete otherwise” (195). So in the painting, Griet is looking over her shoulder, her wild curly hair hidden, her mouth slightly open like Vermeer asked, with Vermeer’s wife’s earrings in her ears. For such a painting, she had to sacrifice her position as a maid. Although, the fact that she, the maid, had feelings for Vermeer, an artist with a family, was never a good idea to begin with.

Book: Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. Plume, 1999.


“The Geisha With The Blue-Gray Eyes”: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

“The Geisha With The Blue-Gray Eyes”:
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

*Apparently, Arthur Golden was sued by the retired geisha he had interviewed for his novel because he left her name as one of the sources in his acknowledgements, even though she was supposed to remain anonymous. Check out this article: (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=106248&page=1)

“…the ‘gei’ of ‘geisha’ means ‘arts,’ so the word ‘geisha’ really means ‘artisan’ or ‘artist’”
-Nitta Sayuri

Nitta Sayuri, formerly known as Sakamato Chiyo, used to live in a fishing village in Japan, called Yoroido, with her ill mother, her quiet father, and her clumsy sister. But that all changed when Chiyo met Mr. Tanaka, who then brought her to an Okiya (geisha boarding house) in Gion. With the help of Mameha, a beautiful and famous Geisha, who eventually becomes Chiyo’s “Older Sister,” Sakamato Chiyo changes her name to Nitta Sayuri, and makes her own reputation as a well-loved Geisha with startlingly blue-gray eyes. Even though she never knew she would become a successful Geisha, life had many surprises for Sayuri, and as she later confesses, “the afternoon when I first met Mr. Tanaka was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst” (105).

Before reading Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I had never understood what a Geisha really was. Reading this novel completely changed my perception of the profession, and I learned that the profession (or the art?) of being a geisha is more complicated and intricate than I imagined.

When Chiyo becomes a Geisha, Mameha, her Older Sister, helps her with her new name. As she explains to her readers:
My new name came from “sa,” meaning “together,” “yu,” from the zodiac sign for the Hen – in order to balance other elements in my personality – and “ri,” meaning “understanding.” (167)

As a famous Geisha, Sayuri goes on to make acquaintances with men from all kinds of backgrounds – a baron, a minister, a chairman of a company, a soldier, among others. But what I found to be interesting is in the “Translator’s Note” in the beginning of the novel. Jakob Harhuis states that the Geisha’s “…existence is predicated on the singularly Japanese conviction that what goes on during the morning in the office and what goes on during the evening behind closed doors bear no relationship to one another, and must always remain compartmentalized and separate” (3). He then wonders, “Why did Sayuri want her story told?” (3). And this question intrigued me. Why did Sayuri want to reveal her secrets and experiences to her readers? Did She want to relive her memories about the man she had loved? Did she miss Okiya, the geisha boarding house, where she had lived with Mother, Auntie, Granny, Pumpkin, and the infamous Hatsumomo? Why did she want to tell a story about the geisha with the blue-gray eyes?

Works Cited:

  • “’Geisha’ Author and Publisher Sued.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=106248.
  • Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a geisha. Alexandria Library, 2007.