Author Susan Vreeland



1. English classes, contemporary literature classes, Advanced Placement, short story units, creative writing.
2. Social studies classes studying World War II and The Holocaust. "Love Enough" displays the moral issues and guilt incurred by those involved in Holocaust atrocities. "A Night Different from All Other Nights" can be used as companion to Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. Two girls roughly the same age, in the same Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam, suffering the growing awareness of the same impending peril; one family going into hiding, one trying to live as usual. Whereas Anne was verbal and expressive, Hannah was inward and suffered the pain of the unexpressed.
3. Correlative reading for American literature classes studying The Crucible. Treatment of witches in Salem compared to Aletta in "From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers."
4. Art history classes
5. Drama/theater arts classes


1. What does Girl in Hyacinth Blue suggest about the value (personal and monetary) and purpose of art?

2. Analyze what function the painting serves for each character. (See "Getting Deeper into the Text.")

3. This painting seems to have a different effect on each of the owners. Name the effects, and speculate why the painting brings out different qualities in different people. Who loved the painting the most? Defend your choice.

4. Speculate about what actually happened to the painting. In defending your speculation, appraise Cornelius' moral character. Is he capable of destroying the painting or relinquishing it? Is he a failed human being or is he capable of redemption? Defend your evaluation. Does it matter that the final outcome is not shown on scene?

5. In the end, does it matter whether or not the painting is a Vermeer? To whom does it matter? Analyze what that suggests about those characters.

6. In what way does the girl in the painting reflect Hannah and Magdalena's natures? In what way are Hannah and Magdalena similar? In what way are Hannah and Anne Frank similar? Distinguish their differences.

7. The deportation center for Jews rounded up from Amsterdam was Westerbork. From there, they boarded trains to Auschwitz. Seeing the Jewish family herded down the street, Hannah says to herself, "To Westerbork. That place." Why do you think the author chose Westerbork as the village where Saskia grew up?

8. What does the book have to say about the joys and difficulties of being an artist? On page 204, Vermeer speaks of "the cost" of his painting to his household. To what does he refer? Is it worth it?

9. What is gained by presenting the stories in reverse chronology? What is lost with this structure?

10. Identify different kinds of love presented in the book. Consider love for things as well as for people. List actions that expressed love. Think of minor characters too. Who had the highest concept of love?

11. Discuss the range and significance of the last line. Evaluate its appropriateness.

12. Where does the novel touch on the tragic? The triumphant?

13. Is there a piece of art that affects you in a special way? Describe it, and explain its effect on you.

14. How does art serve us? Why do we need it? How should one look at a painting?


Because the structure of the book consists of eight stories, a class can be divided into eight groups, each assigned to a different story. Each group can discuss the following questions in relation to their story and present their findings to the class. Because all questions may not apply to all stories, each group may be permitted to eliminate one question.

1. Consider what the story title suggests about the story's theme or the nature of the main character.
2. Formulate a list of details in the painting which are revealed in this story. Synthesize the details you found with those found in other groups in order to create a full image of the painting.
3. What insights about the painting are revealed by a character in this story? How do these insights serve to illuminate or reveal the main character or any appropriate subordinate character?
4. How does the painting function in this story, and for whom does it fulfill that function? Explain what it reveals about that character.
5. Predict what might happen and/or what might be said by a character or characters after your story ends.
6. Locate references to any of the following items: milk; window; blue; potatoes; pigeons; high buildings in flat land. Synthesize your information with information from other groups, and arrive at a conclusion as to the multiple purposes each one of these elements serves.
7. Locate references to the time of the setting. What does the story reveal about the cultural values, conditions and attitudes of the time period in the Netherlands that it represents?
8. In the school library or on the Internet, discover two additional historical details that the author could have woven into the story.
9. Identify a favorite passage, read it to the class, and explain why it appealed to you.


The painting functions in different ways for each character, as does any piece of art. Any of these can be used as the basis for class projects.

1. Loss of innocence about his father (Cornelius)
2. Moral dilemma of theft and ownership (Cornelius and Otto Engelbrecht)
3. Evidence of Holocaust and forced eviction of Jews
4. Inspiration toward a loving, courageous, selfless act of resistance (Hannah)
5. Remembrance of a lost love (Laurens)
6. A father's pain of releasing daughter to her new husband (Laurens)
7. Marital peace offering by philandering husband (Gerard)
8. Ache of being barren (Claudine)
9. Lure for seduction (Claudine)
10. Means of support for an abandoned baby (Stijn)
11. Source of conflict between husband and wife about what's important in life (Saskia and Stijn)
12. Evidence of spirits and witches (Aletta)
13. Material gain from participation in the slave trade (Rika)
14. Payment of debt (Vermeer)
15. A means to gain attention and love from her father (Magdalena)
16. Remembrance of things past (Magdalena)


1. Analyze the moral choices made in the novel. What were they based on? Given the situations and the characters, were they good choices? The best that could have been made? [Cornelius' treatment of his father; Cornelius' decision of what to do with the painting; Saskia's use of the seed potatoes; Aletta's killing one baby; Adriaan's giving up the other baby; Vermeer continuing to paint rather than taking a wage-earning job; Magdalena taking money from her husband's strongbox to buy the painting.]

2. Write a character analysis of Cornelius, supporting your hypothesis of what he eventually did with the painting. In your essay, discuss his rejection of other courses of action having to do with the painting. [burn it; give it to Richard to have it appraised; send it to a Jewish organization which traces art stolen by the Nazis; continue to live with it secretly; send it anonymously to an art museum; send it anonymously to the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston to replace a Vermeer stolen in 1990 and never recovered.]

3. Study every story to find out the bits of information added to describe the imagined painting. Find those elements in Vermeer's real paintings. Create the imaginary painting, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, in pencil, paper mosaic, pastels, or paint..

4. Compare and contrast Hannah Vredenburg and Anne Frank. Consider their situations, natures, actions, and words. Reconstruct "A Night Different from All Other Nights" using Anne Frank's character rather than Hannah's.

5. Read James Joyce's story, "The Dead" from The Dubliners, and compare it in terms of theme, characterization and style to "Adagia." Consider the wisdom or recklessness of Gretta's revelation to her husband of her lost love in "The Dead," and Lauren's similar revelation in "Adagia." Compare the responses of the two spouses and analyze the messages about the fragility of love relationships that both authors present.

6. Examine repeated motifs, phrases, themes, details used in several stories. How are they used to stitch the individual stories spanning four hundred years into a novel? [milk; window; blue; potatoes; pigeons; high buildings in flat land]

7. Give three examples of human cruelty found in the stories. How does each one play upon the others, and how does art play a role in each one, if at all?

8. Select a story and do one of the following:

a. Write a scene taking place after the close of the story.
b. Rewrite an existing scene, or write a new scene outside the story from a different character's point of view.
[Suggestions: Adriaan's aunt; Digna the wife in "Adagia;" Gerard, the husband in "Hyacinth Blues;" Catharina, Vermeer's wife; Otto Engelbrecht on his deathbed; Stijn, Saskia's husband in "Morningshine"]

9. Create a hypothetical conversation between two characters from two different stories reflecting each of their concerns and attitudes, and their likely reactions to the concerns and attitudes of the other character.

10. Select a gap in time during which we don't know what happened to the painting. Write a story which reveals who owns the painting, how it was obtained, how it influenced your new characters.

11. Present a dramatic monologue taken from one of the stories. [Suggestions: the two girls, Hannah and Magdalena; Cornelius' musing in the middle section of "Love Enough;" Claudine in "Hyacinth Blues"]

12. Do some historic and cultural research and write a paper or prepare a class presentation on one of these topics:

a. Vermeer's art as a personal expression of 17th century Dutch culture. Analyze the ways was he different than and similar to his contemporaries.
b. The growth of the Dutch landscape, the use and engineering of dikes and windmills, and the ever-present threat of the "Waterwolf," floods.
c. The role of religion in various time periods and regions in the history and culture of the Netherlands.
d. A comparison of Vermeer's art and Rembrandt's, or Vermeer's and Jan Steen's. Evaluate each one's influence on the other.
e. The moral issues surrounding art stolen by the Third Reich during The Holocaust. Relate the efforts by descendants of Jewish people who perished to locate and claim their families' confiscated art. Appraise the validity of some claims, and either criticize or justify the actions of the claimants, and of museums holding such art in their collections.

13. Select an actual painting by Vermeer, and write a scene or an entire story around what is being pictured.

14. Select a phrase or sentence from any story in Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and analyze how it applies to the whole book.

Suggested lines:

"love enough" p. 2
"...capable of doing some great, wild loving thing. Yes, oh yes." p. 51
"In the end, it's only the moments that we have." p. 71
"It's only after years that one even notices the excruciating complexities." p. 72
"Remember no wrongs." p. 75
"...there was nothing so vital as paying attention, and perfecting the humble offices of love." p. 78
"How love builds itself unconsciously, out of the momentous ordinary." p. 80
"Look long enough, out or in, and you'll be glad you are who you are." p. 81
"Knowing what love isn't might be just as valuable though infinitely less satisfying as knowing what it is." p. 107
"There's got to be some beauty too." p. 145
"I had fancied love a casual adjunct and not the central turning shaft making all parts move." p. 194
"...sacred with the tenderness of just living" p. 223
"a respite in stillness from the unacknowledged acts of women to hallow home" p. 223
"...soul enough to speak" p. 226
"All of it is ordinary to everyone but me." p. 234
"If two people love the same thing, then they must love each other, at least a little." p. 235
"Would that have been enough--to tell a truth in art?" p. 238
"...nice things almost happen" p. 240
"...if the life of something as inconsequential as a water drop could be arrested and given to the world in a painting, or if the world would care." p. 242


If a work of art is an expression of the artist's temperament, Johannes Vermeer might be considered a deeply contemplative man. And if his work were said to have a theme, it might be termed the power of woman to hallow home and the sacredness of the quiet or private moment. Yet with eleven children and creditors at the door, his home was hardly peaceful, and he probably had little time for contemplation.

Born in 1632 to a weaver and occasional dealer in art, Vermeer spent his entire life in Delft, eventually gaining in reputation to become one of the heads of the Guild of St. Luke before he died in debt at 43 in 1675. Only some 36 paintings can definitely be ascribed to him, his oeuvre missing any apprentice works, studies, and sketches. No doubt some major canvases have become lost through the centuries.

Although his early paintings were biblical, genre scenes satisfying the bourgeois buyer wanting a mirror of their drawing room society, and townscapes, and his later compositions were allegorical, he is most known for quiet domestic scenes catching a moment in great stillness, usually with a female figure central to the composition. Enigma is his hallmark quality. There is often an ambiguity of situation, a mystery of what the painted figure is actually thinking, a moment of unexplained interaction, which makes Vermeer ripe material for the fiction writer.

While the characters and plot of the first six stories and the last story are completely fictional, the events in "Still Life" were taken from research into Vermeer's life. The subject of the painting being his daughter is, of course, fiction since the painting is imagined. In the historic auction of 1696, Vermeer's paintings averaged 72 guilders each, more than the 60 guilders for a quarter pound of ultramarine pigment made from lapis, the same price as gold. His top 17th century price after his death was 400 guilders, while Rembrandt's paintings regularly sold for 500-1500 guilders. Vermeer's average annual income from painting was 200 guilders, while a Delft pottery artisan earned 850 yearly.

Source material:

Bailey, Anthony, Vermeer: View of Delft. Henry Holt, 2001.

Bell, Judith, "The Mystery of Vermeer," Art and Antiques, November 1995.

McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler, In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer's Women, William Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2000.

National Gallery, Johannes Vermeer. (catalog of 1995-96 exhibition) Washington: National Gallery of Art; The Hague: Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, 1995.

Wheelock, Arthur, (Curator of Northern European Painting at the National Gallery), Jan Vermeer. Abrams, 1988.

Wheelock, Arthur, Vermeer: The Complete Works. Abrams, 1997.

The Essential Vermeer Lover
The most complete site including Vermeer's life, paintings, interpretations, techniques, thefts, auctions, forgery, Delft, The Golden Age of Dutch Painting, relevant social history and more, by Jonathan Janson, contemporary painter of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, commissioned for the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.


Girl in Hyacinth Blue is included in California Department of Education Recommended Literature: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, and meets the following paraphrased California Language Arts standards.

The author's suggested applications appear in brackets, though there are certainly more that teachers could devise. Abbreviations refer to Teachers' Guide for Girl in Hyacinth Blue, above: DT, Discussion Topics; CLA, Collaborative Learning Activities; PCT, Projects and Composition Topics.

Correlative Standards for Grades 9 and 10:

I. Reading:

1.0  Word Analysis.

1.1  Literal and figurative meanings of words [moulting, p. 22; mosaic, p. 26; intoxication, p. 64; meringues, p. 86; crescendo, p. 96; plumage, p. 156; diminutive, p. 190.]

1.2  Denotations and connotations of words [provenance; complicity, p. 2 and 79; appropriation, p. 16; ignominy, p. 22; penance, p. 25; misbegotten, p. 30; euphoria, p. 63; vacuous, p. 71; propitiatory, p. 72; adage (Latin plural, adagia) p. 66; reprehensible, p. 79; veritable, p. 98; reproach, p. 104; pillory, p. 156; virulence, p. 157; redemption, p. 191; rumination, p. 202; papist, p. 211; spurious, p. 219; cerulean, p. 221; respite, p. 223; hallow, p. 223.]

3.0  Literary Response and Analysis of historically or culturally significant works of literature.

3.3  Analyze interaction between main and subordinate characters. [Cornelius and Richard, p. 3-11 and 30-35; Hannah and her mother and grandmother; Saskia and Stijn, p. 144-5; Saskia and her mother, p. 150; Adriaan and Rika, p. 180 and 191-2; Jan and Pieter, p. 201-5]

3.4  Determine characters' traits by what they say about themselves in dialogue and monologue. [Cornelius, p. 28; Hannah, p. 51, 56; Laurens, p. 67-9; Claudine, "sweeping away the despair of my restlessness" and p. 107-8; Vermeer, paintings"...give compensation for reality," and p. 219-220; Magdalena, "All of it is ordinary to everyone but me," and "I hate to mend....It's not making anything."]

3.5  Compare works in terms of universal theme. ["A Night Different" with Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl; "Adagia" with James Joyce's "The Dead."]

3.6  Analyze and trace an author's development of time and sequence. [Reverse chronology sustains uncertainty of authenticity of painting, builds readers' vision of and concern for the painting by the time they experience its creation]

3.7  Recognize figurative language [eye like a blue pearl; "burning" used in two stories], imagery [juxtaposition of painting and baby (art and life) in rowboat; Aletta's hands shaking rain water], symbolism [pearl; milk; window; painting represents different concepts to each character].

3.8  Interpret ambiguities [fate of the painting; Digna's last line]; subtleties [deaths of two babies, deportation center the same place as Saskia's beloved home], contradictions [Laurens saying "Gallows weren't intended for the young and innocent," yet Aletta is both young and innocent; Magdalena says that lives end abruptly, and they do for all of Hannah's family, Aletta, Aletta's girl baby, Magdalena's child, yet art endures], ironies [Magdalena's last line, that no one would know her is untrue because her image influenced many lives].

3.9  Explain how voice, persona and choice of narrator affect characterization, tone, credibility of text. [Claudine's engaging disparagement of the Dutch and her enthusiasm for love encourages readers to forgive her superficiality and immorality; her lighthearted, satiric tone allows readers to believe in the simultaneity of the two affairs; Adriaan's reflections written thirty years after his affair with Aletta verify the depth of its effect on him, and the credibility of her fate; Magdalena's simple sincerity makes the painting and her longing real.]

3.11  Evaluate aesthetic qualities of style, including the impact of diction and figurative language on tone, mood, theme (Aesthetic Approach).

3.12  Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to themes and issues of its historical period (Historic Approach). [Current moral issue of returning works of art stolen by governments during war; superiority of a conquering culture (Napoleonic France) over its ill-gotten territories; bigotry of lingering persecution of witches; pious bourgeois hypocrisy of material gain earned from slave trade]

II.  Writing Strategies:

2.1  Write narratives or short stories [PCT 8, 10, 14]

2.2  Write responses to literature [topics 3.0-3.12 above, and DT 1, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

2.3  Write expository compositions [PCT 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 15; DT 2, 3, 8]

2.4  Write persuasive compositions [DT 1, 4, 5]

III.  Listening and Speaking:

1.1  Formulate judgments about ideas under discussion and support those judgments with text. [DT 2, 5, 8, 10, 13, 14]

2.1  Deliver narrative presentations
       a.  Narrate sequence of events and communicate their significance [route of painting through history signifying endurance of beauty; speculation of its provenance between known owners].
       b.  Locate scenes and incidents in specific places. [flood, Claudine's house, sentry tower]
       c.  Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, smells of a scene [Hannah's shopping trip; the birth of Aletta's twins; the night of the flood; Willem's attack on Catharina; Magdalena looking out from the sentry tower; the death of Vermeer] and the specific actions, movements, gestures, feeling of the characters [Hannah killing the pigeons; Aletta's hanging as witnessed by Adriaan; Adriaan singing to his son and placing him in the rowboat]

2.2  Deliver oral responses to literature.
       a.  Advance a judgment demonstrating comprehensive grasp of significant ideas in a work or passage. [PCT 2; DT 1, 4, 10, 12]

Correlative Standards for Grades 11 and 12

I.  Reading:

3.0  Literary Response and Analysis

3.1  Analyze characteristics of subgenres such as satire... ["Hyacinth Blues," Claudine's voice, humor, ridicule, irony, exaggeration, exposé (of Dutch culture and her own shallowness)].

3.2  Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim. [Magdalena: "lives end abruptly, is repetition,...nice things almost happen." See also PCT 15, especially:

"Remember no wrongs." p. 75

"...there was nothing so vital as paying attention, and perfecting the humble offices of love." p. 8

"How love builds itself unconsciously, out of the momentous ordinary." p. 80

"Knowing what love isn't might be just as valuable though infinitely less satisfying as knowing what it is." Said by Claudine, p. 107; also applicable to Cornelius, Adriaan.

"There's got to be some beauty too." p. 145

"I had fancied love a casual adjunct and not the central turning shaft making all parts move." Said by Adriaan, p. 194, but also applicable to Vermeer, Laurens, Claudine.]

3.3  Analyze the ways in which irony, tone, mood, the author's style, and the "sound" of language achieve specific rhetorical or aesthetic purposes or both. [Adriaan's serious, reflective writing style; Claudine's exuberant conversational tone.]

3.7b.  Relate literary works and authors to the major themes and issues of their eras.

3.7c.  Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings. [arrogance and immorality of Nazi regime; Jewish Passover traditions stemming from Old Testament event/oppression; exploitative Napoleonic control of early 19th century Netherlands; prosperous bourgeois materialism of 17th century Netherlands; Dutch Protestantism limiting Vermeer's prospects as a Catholic.]

3.9  Analyze the philosophical arguments presented in literary works to determine whether the authors' positions have contributed to the quality of each work and the credibility of the characters. (Philosophical Approach) [the value of moments; types of love; necessity of beauty.]

II. Writing Strategies

1.0  Students write coherent and focused texts that convey a well-defined perspective and tightly focused argument.

1.1  Demonstrate an understanding of the elements of discourse (e.g. purpose, speaker, audience, form) when completing narrative [PCT 8, 10, 14], expository [PCT 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 15; DT 2, 3, 8], persuasive [DT 1, 4, 5], or descriptive writing assignments [description of the painting, the Dutch landscape, the flood, 360 degree view from the Delft sentry tower, Claudine's house].

1.3  Structure ideas and arguments in a sustained, persuasive, and sophisticated way and support them with precise and relevant examples.

1.6  Develop presentations by using clear research questions and creative and critical research strategies (e.g. field studies [art museums], interviews [with artists, Holocaust survivors, descendants of people who perished], electronic sources [Internet sites on Vermeer and Vreeland,]

2.1  Write fictional...narratives:
       a.  Narrate a sequence of events and communicate their significance.
       b.  Locate scenes and incidents in specific places. [flood, Claudine's house, sentry tower]
       c.  Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene [Hannah's shopping trip; the birth of Aletta's twins; the night of the flood; Willem's attack on Catharina; Magdalena looking out from the sentry tower; the death of Vermeer] and the specific actions, movements, gestures, feeling of the characters [Hannah killing the pigeons; Aletta's hanging as witnessed by Adriaan; Adriaan singing to his son and placing him in the rowboat]; use interior monologue to depict the characters' feelings.

2.2  Write responses to literature:
       a.  Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the significant ideas in works or passages [purpose/function of art; beauty as a human necessity; value of the ordinary; importance of tradition; issue of ownership; torment of unresolved guilt or shame].
       b.  Analyze the use of imagery, language, universal themes, and unique aspects of the text [linked stories; eight points of view; reverse chronology].
       c.  Support important ideas and viewpoints through accurate and detailed references to the text and to other works.
       d.  Demonstrate an understanding of the author's use of stylistic devices and an appreciation of the effects created.
       e.  Identify and assess the impact of perceived ambiguities [the fate of the painting, Digna's last line], nuances [similar longings of Hannah, Magdalena and the girl in the painting; repetition of Old Testament oppression of Jews suggested by Passover], and complexities within the text ["Call it a memorial act, aimed at cheating the world of its triumph by ignominy, but by its very privacy, it failed." "If she'd seen that eventually, with help, she could paint, it might have made the years of birthing and dying harder.]

2.3  Write reflective compositions:
       a.  Explore the significance of personal experiences [with a work of art], events [floods, other natural disasters], conditions [religious discrimination and oppression] by using rhetorical strategies (e.g. narration, description, exposition, persuasion).
       b.  Draw comparisons between specific incidents and broader themes that illustrate the writer's important beliefs or generalizations about life [killing an imperfect baby and abandoning a baby (value of life); choosing between art and human life; revealing truth which may cause heartache (Laurens and Digna, protection vs. truth); theft and rightful ownership; endurance; necessity of beauty].

2.6  Deliver multimedia presentations:
       a.  Combine text [passages showing each character's individual response to the painting], images [Vermeer slides made from books] and draw information from many sources (e.g. television, videos, films [The Red Violin, Shindler's List, Diary of Anne Frank], newspapers, magazines, Internet [websites of Vermeer images and information; websites of stolen art search organizations].

III. Speaking and Listening:

2.0  Students deliver polished formal and extemporaneous presentations that combine traditional rhetorical strategies of narration, exposition, persuasion, and description.

2.1  Deliver reflective presentations:
       a.  Explore the significance of personal experiences [with a work of art], events [disaster], conditions [oppression, anti-Semitism], or concerns [any religious discrimination].
       b.  Draw comparisons between the specific incident and broader themes that illustrate the speaker's beliefs or generalizations about life.

2.2  Deliver oral reports on historical investigations:
[persecution of witches in Europe; art stolen during wartime, see The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn Nicholas; fate of Jews in Holocaust, see Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry by Jacob Presser

2.3  Deliver oral responses to literature:
[See Discussion Topics and Collaborative Learning Activities in Teacher's Guide.]