Chevalier, Tracy 1962–
Chevalier, Tracy 1962–
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 28/29 Hay-market, London SWIY 4SP, England. E-mail—[email protected]
The Virgin Blue, Penguin (London, England), 1997, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Falling Angels, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
The Lady and the Unicorn, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of short stories to Fiction and various magazines.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, preface by Naomi Lewis, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1989.
Contemporary Poets, prefaces by C. Day Lewis and Diane Wakoski, 5th edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1991.
Contemporary World Writers, preface by Susan Bassnett, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Encyclopedia of the Essay, Fitzroy Dearborn (Chicago, IL), 1997.
ADAPTATIONS: Girl with a Pearl Earring was released as a film in 2003. All of Chevalier's novels have been adapted as audiobooks.
SIDELIGHTS: Beginning her career as an editor, Tracy Chevalier has gained a growing following as an author of historical fiction. Her novels include Girl with a Pearl Earring, an imagined account of the model who appears in Dutch master Johannes Vermeer's painting of the same title, as well as The Lady and the Unicorn and The Virgin Blue. Discussing Girl with a Pearl Earring in a Fire and Water interview, Chevalier noted that the girl in Vermeer's painting is "both universal and specific" and added that "you never really know what she's thinking." In Chevalier's story, the painting de-picts an illiterate teenager, Griet, who works as a servant in Vermeer's household. Griet is responsible for maintaining Vermeer's studio, and thus she becomes familiar with the painter's interests and technical concerns. "By the time she sits for her portrait," wrote R.Z. Sheppard in Time, "Griet is a budding connoisseur."
Vermeer's wife, who recognizes her own earring as the one worn by Griet in the painting, soon grows to resent the bond that has developed between her husband and the servant. Likewise, Vermeer's mother-in-law suspects that an inappropriate relationship has developed between artist and model. "But the truth is loftier than a studio tryst," noted Sheppard, who described Chevalier's account as "an exquisitely controlled exercise that illustrates how temptation is restrained for the sake of art." Another critic, Ruth Coughlin, summarized Girl with a Pearl Earring in the New York Times Book Review as "marvelously evocative," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "a completely absorbing story."
While Girl with a Pearl Earring is Chevalier's best-known novel, it was not her first; she began her fiction-writing career with The Virgin Blue, a story about an American midwife who moves to France and finds her life circumstances reflected in those of a sixteenth-century ancestor. In Library Journal, Jo Manning praised the debut novel as a "marvelous piece of writing" that possesses "fluid language, strong characters, and imaginative plotting." Ted Hipple offered a similar opinion in a Booklist interview, noting that Chevalier "demonstrates … admirable gifts with language."
The Lady and the Unicorn was inspired by a series of six tapestries that hang in the Cluny museum in Paris, their origins mysterious. In Chevalier's novel, the works are commissioned by a powerful and manipulative French nobleman whose female household ultimately becomes involved with the worldly and opportunistic artisan commissioned to do the work. Over time, the lives of these women become entwined—romantically and otherwise—in that of the artist and the work he creates, which was originally meant to be the battle of Nancy but comes to be something far different.
Praising The Lady and the Unicorn as a "luminous tale," Booklist contributor Kristine Huntley commended Chevalier for the insight she brings to the historical epoch she describes, as well as for "colorful characters" who "leap off the page." Such praise was echoed by other reviewers, with a Kirkus Reviews contributor noting that the book is "marvelously imagined and sharply constructed, with a good feel for the people and the era." "What makes the tale enthralling are the details Chevalier offers," added a Publishers Weekly contributor, as well as "the deft way she herself weaves together each separate story strand" to create "a work of genuine power and beauty." In The Lady and the Unicorn, Rochelle Ratner added in Library Journal, Chevalier continues to develop the theme begun in Girl with a Pearl Earring: taking "artworks beautiful beyond words" and creating from them "an enchanting novel."
Chevalier's shift from reference-book editor to novelist came in 1993, when she quit her editorial job and earned her M.A. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. "I try to put the success of my previous books out of my head when I write," she explained on her Web site. "If I thought about it much I'd be paralyzed with the fear of everyone's expectations of me." However, she has been able to sustain the critical success of Girl with a Pearl Earring, as well as juggle motherhood and a host of other responsibilities. "It's kind of like running," the author added: "you feel terrible for those first ten minutes but then it gets better and afterwards you feel great."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Reference Books Annual, Libraries Unlimited, 1998, Bernice Bergup, review of Encyclopedia of the Essay, p. 478.
Booklist, April 15, 1998, review of Encyclopedia of the Essay, p. 1462; September 15, 2003, Ted Hipple, review of The Virgin Blue, p. 252; November 1, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 458; April 15, 2004, Joyce Saricks, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 1460.
Choice, April, 1998, A.C. Labriola, review of Encyclopedia of the Essay, p. 1347.
Cleveland Plain-Dealer, October 24, 2001, Donna Marchetti, "Fed-up Editor Starts Writing Her Own Books," p. E1.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2003, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 1325.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Girl with a Pearl Earring, p. 103; August, 2003, Jo Manning, review of The Virgin Blue, p. 127; January, 2004, Kellie Gillespie, review of The Lady and the Unicron, p. 152; June 15, 2004, Rochelle Ratner, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 108.
New York Times Book Review, January 23, 2000, Ruth Coughlin, review of Girl with a Pearl Earring, p. 20.
People, January 12, 2004, Lee Aitken, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, October 11, 1999, review of Girl with a Pearl Earring; December 8, 2003, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 45.
Reference and User Services Quarterly, fall, 1998, Andrew B. Wertheimer, review of Encyclopedia of the Essay, p. 93.
RQ, spring, 1992, Anna M. Donnelly, review of Contemporary Poets, p. 435.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 2002, Gail Pennington, review of Girl with a Pearl Earring, p. E1.
School Library Journal, April, 2004, Molly Connally, review of The Lady and the Unicorn, p. 182.
Time, January 17, 2000, R.Z. Sheppard, "A Portrait of Radiance: Tracy Chevalier Brings the Real Artist Vermeer and a Fictional Muse to Life in a Jewel of a Novel," p. 94.
Fire and Water, http://www.fireandwater.com/ (February 2, 2000).
Tracy Chevalier Web site, http://www.tchevalier.com/ (August 5, 2004).