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"His paintings don't tell stories...": Historical Romance and Vermeer

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Fletcher, LM (2006) "His paintings don't tell stories...": Historical Romance and Vermeer. Working Papers on the Web, 9. ISSN 1478-3703

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Abstract

The most well-known re-imagining of Johannes Vermeer's (1632-1675) art and life is Tracy Chevalier's 1999 bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring; however seven novels published since 1998 use Vermeer as their "launch-pad." Three of these novels are set in seventeenth-century Holland: Girl with a Pearl Earring, Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999), and Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever (1999). Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tulip Fever, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister interpret Vermeer's paintings as moments of suspended narrative.2 All three novels animate the figures in Vermeer's paintings as characters in remarkably similar tales of "restrained" sexuality. Part 1 of this article argues that they are best classified as historical romance fictions. Part 2 focuses on Girl with a Pearl Earring and its treatment of the relationship between history and romance. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to offer detailed close readings of Tulip Fever, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the conclusion suggests the relevance of its approach to Girl with a Pearl Earring to these less well-known novels. There are crucial similarities in their treatment of history and their representation of gender and heterosexuality.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Vermeer, Chevalier, Maguire, Moggach, historical fiction, romance, history
Journal or Publication Title: Working Papers on the Web
ISSN: 1478-3703
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2007
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2013 01:49
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/537
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