Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland Essay

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Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland


In eight quasi-connected stories, Susan Vreeland delivers a fictional lesson on aesthetics. Set amidst human sorrow and historic chaos, the narrative follows an imagined Vermeer painting from the present day through 330 years of its provenance--beginning with its willful destruction in the 1990s and concluding with its inspired creation in the 1660s:

Chapter 1. 1995(?): in Pennsylvania, math teacher Cornelius Englebrecht burns the painting in his fireplace; 1942: in Amsterdam, from the Vredenburg home, German soldier Otto Engelbrecht loots the painting, hides it, and absconds with it to America.
Chapter 2. 1940: in Amsterdam, diamond merchant Sol Vredenburg buys the painting for
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Can you say why some fail to work as well as others?

3. The original title for the opening chapter was "Love Burning." What additional textual evidence exists to affirm the painting's destruction by Cornelius? Do you think that Cornelius makes a morally correct decision when he burns the picture? Do you think that Richard ought to have stepped in to save it?

4. In "A Night Different From All Other Nights," Hannah slaughters the family's pet pigeons. Why and for whom does Hannah destroy these pets? How is the death of the pigeons related to the Amsterdam setting? In what way is the family's celebration of Passover relevant to this story? Would a different Jewish holiday, say Chanukah, have had the same symbolic value?

5. Why do you think that Digna sews samplers, in "Adagia," embedded with quotations by Erasmus? You might want to discuss Erasmus, and the part this Dutch Renaissance humanist plays in the drama going on between this 19th century husband and wife?

6. The "Hyacinth Blue" chapter is written in the first person and in a vastly different style from that of the other chapters. Authors often use the first person point of view to expose an unreliable narrator. In what way is Claudine's account of these events unreliable? In other words, what part or parts of the story does she fail to understand? Why do you think that Vreeland chose to tell Claudine's story from that character's limited point of view?

7. In the

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