Girl With a Pearl Earring Part One: 1664 Summary & Analysis
Part One Summary: 1664
The book opens with Johannes and Catharina Vermeers visiting Griet’s home. They meet Griet chopping vegetables in her mother’s kitchen. At the time, Griet does not know why the Vermeers are there, but she soon learns that she is being hired to work as a maid in their household and, in particular, to clean the painter’s studio.
The next morning Griet arrives at the Vermeer household, which is in the Catholic section of Delft. On the street outside the house she meets the five Vermeer children, Maertge, Lisbeth, Cornelia, Aleydis, and the baby Johannes. When she enters the house, what she is most struck by is the vast number of paintings—particularly the paintings with religious themes that she takes to be Catholic, since Protestants “did not have such pictures in our houses, or our churches, or anywhere” (17). Tanneke, the maid and the household’s cook, shows her around the house and tells her that in addition to cleaning Vermeer’s studio, she’ll be taking up the duties of laundry and shopping and that she will be sleeping in the cellar below one of the storage rooms.
Griet begins her work immediately, going to the canal to get water for her laundry duties, with the Vermeer children tagging along. While Griet’s tendency is to protect the children near the water, as she did with her own brother and sister when they were younger, Cornelia, the six-year-old, is already proving to be a challenge. She follows Griet, coming too close to the water, and then laughs at Griet’s gentle admonishment. Griet slaps her, setting the foundation for Cornelia’s persistent attempts to upset Griet, both emotionally and in terms of her precarious position in the household.
Later, Griet goes with Tanneke to the market and meets Pieter, the butcher, and notes his bloody apron with distaste. Though the butcher’s son, also named Pieter, is not there at the time, he and Griet will meet soon after on one of her regular visits to their stall, and he will become Griet’s suitor and an important link to her family.
The next morning Catharina takes her…