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The Virgin Blue: A Novel

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Overview

Meet Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin—two women born centuries apart, yet bound by a fateful family legacy. When Ella and her husband move to a small town in France, Ella hopes to brush up on her French, qualify to practice as a midwife, and start a family of her own. Village life turns out to be less idyllic than she expected, however, and a peculiar dream of the color blue propels her on a quest to uncover her family’s French ancestry. As the novel unfolds—alternating between Ella’s story and that of Isabelle...

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The Virgin Blue: A Novel

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Overview

Meet Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin—two women born centuries apart, yet bound by a fateful family legacy. When Ella and her husband move to a small town in France, Ella hopes to brush up on her French, qualify to practice as a midwife, and start a family of her own. Village life turns out to be less idyllic than she expected, however, and a peculiar dream of the color blue propels her on a quest to uncover her family’s French ancestry. As the novel unfolds—alternating between Ella’s story and that of Isabelle du Moulin four hundred years earlier—a common thread emerges that unexpectedly links the two women. Part detective story, part historical fiction, The Virgin Blue is a novel of passion and intrigue that compels readers to the very last page.

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Editorial Reviews

People
As she did in her 2000 bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring, Chevalier brings a distant time and place vividly alive.... Elegantly drawn.
August 18, 2003
Boston Globe
...a compelling page turner.
August 18, 2003
The Los Angeles Times
Where Chevalier shines is in her clean prose and her descriptions of rural French and Swiss life, then and now. — Michael Harris
Publishers Weekly
Chevalier's clunky first novel, initially published in England in 1997, lacks the graceful literary intimacy of her subsequent runaway hit, Girl with a Pearl Earring. In split-narrative fashion, it follows a transplanted American woman in southwestern France as she connects through dreams with her distant Huguenot ancestors. The primary plot concerns the plight of Ella Turner, an insecure American midwife of French ancestry. Her architect husband, Rick, has been transferred from California to Toulouse, France, with Ella accompanying him. Often left alone, she becomes lonely and isolated, and when she decides it's time to have a baby, she begins dreaming of medieval scenes involving a blue dress. In alternating sections of the novel, these details are developed in a narrative about a 16th-century French farm girl and midwife, Isabelle du Moulin, and her eventual marriage to overbearing tyrant Etienne Tournier. Isabelle and Etienne belong to a vehemently anti-Catholic Calvinist sect that overthrows the village's cult of the Virgin, who is also known as La Rousse and depicted in paintings as red-haired and wearing a blue dress. Because of her own red hair and midwifery practice, Isabelle is suspected by her husband of witchcraft and punished accordingly. Ella, with the help of magnetic local librarian Jean-Paul, researches the lives of Isabelle and Etienne, trying to get to the bottom of her strange dreams. Chevalier tries hard to make Ella sympathetic, but her dissatisfaction with Rick is baffling, as is her attraction to the chauvinistic Jean-Paul. Equally difficult to swallow is the heavy-handed plot, which relies on jarring coincidences as it swerves unsteadily from past to present. (July) Forecast: Chevalier's name will guarantee her an audience, but the publication of this early work in an unassuming paperback edition is a wise choice. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Written well before her popular Girl with a Pearl Earring and previously published in England, this brilliant hybrid historical novel/contemporary romance/mystery has the signature Chevalier touches of fluid language, strong characters, and imaginative plotting. At loose ends after arriving in France with her architect husband, American midwife Ella Turner decides to research her elusive Huguenot ancestors, the Tourniers. Soon, however, her marriage founders (repeated encounters with an intriguing French librarian don't help), and Ella starts to have troubling dreams featuring the color blue. Flashbacks to the 16th century introduce Isabelle-also a midwife-who married into the Tournier family and is suspected by her rabidly anti-Catholic husband of continuing to worship the Virgin Mary. The punishment he finally exacts for her perceived crime is horrific. Fans of A.S. Byatt's Possession should enjoy this work, though it's Byatt with a soup on of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"; the startling ending, when all the (blue) threads are tied together, is not for the squeamish. This marvelous piece of writing firmly establishes Chevalier as a talent who's been worth watching. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Jo Manning, Miami Beach, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rich and quirky Chinese puzzle of sorts: a family saga turns into a mystery, then is finally revealed as a domestic drama about a young American living in France who finds her own life intersecting with the history of her ancestors in palpable and uncanny ways. Chevalier’s first novel (never before published here) is set in Lisle-sur-Tarn, a little French town that’s a long way from California, both geographically and culturally. But when Ella Turner’s husband Rick accepted a job in Toulouse, Ella chose picturesque and sleepy Lisle for their new home. It was an eerie choice, for it turns out that Ella’s ancestors—the Tourniers—had lived in Lisle until the 16th century. Ella tries to settle into her new surroundings with good grace—studying French, introducing herself to the locals, socializing with Rick’s colleagues—but she’s soon at loose ends. To begin with, she starts to have a recurring dream—a wordless image of vivid blue—that leaves her increasingly troubled. She also develops a persistent case of eczema, which her doctor suggests may be brought on by stress. What sort of stress? And she finds herself unable to make friends in Lisle. Her only real confidant is Jean-Paul, the town librarian who helps her to research her family history. With his guidance, Ella pieces together the saga of the Tourniers, Protestant Huguenots who had to flee France during the religious wars of the late 16th century. Their story takes on a personal significance for Ella, who discovers a picture by one of her ancestors in the local museum, painted in exactly the same shade of blue that she sees in her dream. Chevalier (Girl With a Pearl Earring , 2000, etc.) contrasts Ella’sinvestigations with chapters relating the adventures of ancestor Isabelle de Moulin Tournier, whose life parallels Ella’s in many ways. Soon Ella realizes she’s looking into her past out of something more than idle curiosity. A modest work of some skill, told with a minimum of melodrama and some good local color.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452284449
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/24/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 185,207
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tracy Chevalier

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

Biography

Tracy Chevalier first gained attention by imagining the answer to one of art history's small but intriguing questions: Who is the subject of Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring"?

It was a bold move on Chevalier's part to build a story around the somewhat mysterious 17th-century Dutch painter and his unassuming but luminous subject; but the author's purist approach helped set the tone. "I decided early on that I wanted [Girl] to be a simple story, simply told, and to imitate with words what Vermeer was doing with paint," Chevalier told her college's alumni magazine. "That may sound unbelievably pretentious, but I didn't mean it as 'I can do Vermeer in words.' I wanted to write it in a way that Vermeer would have painted: very simple lines, simple compositions, not a lot of clutter, and not a lot of superfluous characters."

Chevalier achieved her objective expertly, helped by the fact that she employed the famous Girl as narrator of the story. Sixteen-year-old Griet becomes a maid in Vermeer's tumultuous household, developing an apprentice relationship with the painter while drawing attention from other men and jealousy from women. Praise for the novel poured in: "Chevalier's exploration into the soul of this complex but naïve young woman is moving, and her depiction of 17th-century Delft is marvelously evocative," wrote the New York Times Book Review. The Wall Street Journal called it "vibrant and sumptuous."

Girl with a Pearl Earring was not Chevalier's first exploration of the past. In The Virgin Blue, her U.K.-published first novel (due for a U.S. edition in 2003), her modern-day character Ella Turner goes back to 16th-century France in order to revisit her family history. As a result, she finds parallels between herself and a troubled ancestor -- a woman whose fate had been unknown until Ella discovers it.

With 2001's Falling Angels, Chevalier -- a former reference book editor who began her fiction career by enrolling in the graduate writing program at University of East Anglia -- continued to tell stories of women in the past. But she has been open about the fact that compared to writing Girl with a Pearl Earring, the "nightmare" creating of her third novel was difficult and fraught with complications, even tears. The pressure of her previous success, coupled with a first draft that wasn't working out, made Chevalier want to abandon the effort altogether. Then, reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible led Chevalier to change her approach. "[Kingsolver] did such a fantastic job using different voices and I thought, with Falling Angels, I've told it in the wrong way," Chevalier told Bookpage magazine. "I wanted it to have lots of perspective."

With that, Chevalier began a rewrite of her tale about two families in the first decade of 20th-century London. With more than ten narrators (some more prominent than others), Falling Angels has perspective in spades and lots to maintain interest over its relatively brief span: a marriage in trouble, a girlhood friendship born at Highgate Cemetery, a woman's introduction to the suffragette movement. A spirited, fast-paced story, Falling Angels again earned critical praise. "This moving, bittersweet book flaunts Chevalier's gift for creating complex characters and an engaging plot," Book magazine concluded.

Chevalier continues to pursue her fascination with art and history in her fourth novel, on which she is currently at work. According to Oberlin Alumni Magazine, she is basing the book on the Lady and the Unicorn medieval tapestries that hang in Paris's Cluny Museum.

Good To Know

Chevalier's interest in Vermeer extends beyond a fascination with one painting. "I have always loved Vermeer's paintings," Chevalier writes on her Web site. "One of my life goals is to view all thirty-five of them in the flesh. I've seen all but one -- ‘Young Girl Reading a Letter' -- which hangs in Dresden. There is so much mystery in each painting, in the women he depicts, so many stories suggested but not told. I wanted to tell one of them."

Chevalier moved from the States to London in 1984. "I intended to stay six months," she writes. "I'm still here." She lives near Highgate Cemetery with her husband and son.

The film version of Girl with a Pearl Earring is on the 2003 slate from Lions Gate Films, with Scarlett Johansson in the role of Griet and Colin Firth playing Vermeer.

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 19, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

1 The Virgin 1
2 The Dream 23
3 The Flight 64
4 The Search 90
5 The Secrets 129
6 The Bible 148
7 The Dress 184
8 The Farm 206
9 The Chimney 243
10 The Return 266
Epilogue 301
Historical Note 303
Acknowledgements 305
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 82 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(30)

4 Star

(31)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(9)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 82 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2003

    writing on a grand scale

    Chevalier evoked strong emotions from me, the reader. I was at the climax of the story when i just kept turning pages wanting to see what was going to happen, i found myself gasping in shock. As if i were in the story. The vivid way she depicts her words to tell what is happening is remarkable. She describes a scene with imprinting imaging. I have to say I am now a big fan and will await to see more from this great writer.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    AN ENGROSSING STORY THAT CAPTIVATES

    The first book of Chevalier`s that I read was Girl With A Pearl Earring, which was a fascinating lyrical story perfectly woven. And I was not disappointed in The Virgin Blue. It is just as interesting, and has the same lyrical writing style that is Tracy Chevalier. I loved how she wove two women from different centuries, yet from the same family, together. I also love how Chevalier uses color in her book, how detailed she is, but detailed in a way that makes you think of the vastness of life, of all the underlying decisions. Her way of using the color blue to blend together the fates between the two women is mesmerizing. This is a book you can not put down, a book that is both touching, shocking, and in a way heart-wrenching, and yet written in Chevalier`s way that at the end makes you want to sigh. Beautiful, interesting, and bold. A must read if you liked Girl WIth A Pearl Earring (which is personally my favorite.)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2004

    Really Good Read!

    I usually do not judge a writer as being great because they have written one good title. I read Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and really enjoyed it. I knew when I picked up Virgin Blue it would be a test to see if I really appreciated this writer and I have to say Ms.Chevalier has passed with flying colours. I really enjoyed this book! The characters were vivid,the story compelling,and the writing was wonderful. I love how the author makes you feel like you are back in time one minute and whips you into reality the next. Great read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2005

    Master Storyteller

    I absolutely loved this book. Anything historical or with a mystery or midwifery connections always captures my attention. This book has all three. A mixture of sadness, joy, and discovery blends nicely into the story. With her fine writing and beautiful imagery, the author drew me in and I was not disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2004

    Beautifully Written

    I couldn't stop reading this book! I love mysteries as well as the topic of midwifery, so was pleased with The Virgin Blue. I found the author's style a bit like Byatt's (Possession). Switching back and forth in time was not at all confusing or distracting, and the author did an excellent job of weaving past to present.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    Book Review Columnist

    One of the wonderful things about novels is that they can evoke extremely different reactions from different readers. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although 'The Girl With the Pearl Earring' was an entertaining story, 'Virgin Blue' was a far superior read. Chevalier does a brilliant job of transitioning between the two stories, and keeps the reader interested in both. Through each story, we are forced to realize that while roles and traditions may change, human nature and 'pack mentality' does not. It¿s a quick, entertaining read that introduces religious history and sprinkles in the French language with ease.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2004

    Sad but touching

    I loved this novel! It isn't often that I find a book that makes me cry and smile at the same time! This is a story of love and betrayal, of women and their struggle to survive as their religion and life falls away from them. It is a beautiful duet between past and present, which comes to a gripping final creshendo. I highly recommend this book and all of Tracy Chevalier's novels.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!

    I cannot believe anyone who has read this book hasn't fallen love with it. It is one of the best put together books I have read. I have to wonder if some of the reviewers were reading the same book I read. Everyone has their own opinions. I read the "Girl with a Pearl" first and then this one. I believe I Liked "The Virgin Blue" better, not just for content but for the writing itself. It takes an extremely good author to be able to weave one century together and turn it around and have it all tie together. I couldn't put it down and in a couple of years down the road, I am going to read it again. If you haven't read it yet, make it your next book.
    I recommend any books by Nelson DeMille, Susan Monk, Joan Medlicott

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2004

    I Am Hooked

    This was the first book I read of Chevalier's. It is haunting me still, I cannot forget it. She has succeeded at what so many fail.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2004

    a great book

    I really enjoyed this book I thought this was the type of book I never would like but i was very wrong.This book was fantastic I loved the simalarities in isabelle and ella turner i highly recomend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2004

    Beautiful!

    This book was captivating from front to back cover! It was nearly impossible to put down. Chevalier is a wonderful author that won me over with a Girl with a Pearl Earring. A must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    attention to francophiles

    read this book if u love france. also if u just want a good read. i enjoyed this book very much

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2004

    Wow, my favorite book

    I read this book about six months ago and it still enchants me. The two stories are so life-like and real, you just imagine being there with the characters. This is one of the most well written books I have ever read. This is a definite read for any fans enchanted by Girl with a Pearl Earring.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2003

    Fantastic!

    I loved this book. Couldn't put it down...didn't want it to end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2003

    Captivating!!

    This is the first book by T. Chevalier that I read and definitely will not be the last one. The title, the girl on the cover and Goethe's quote all come to life as your expectations are more than fullfilled. Chevalier spins a wonderful tapestry which grabs your attention, will not let go, and leaves you hungry for more. It is a mystery, a historical novel, a love poem, a feeling for tradition and rites that pulls you in until you feel you are experiencing this life yourself. TRIPLE EXCELLENT!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2003

    Couldn't put it down!

    This is the first book I have read by Chevalier, and I am completely hooked. She drew two worlds together in a way that made the connection seem natural and effortless. Her characters are mesmerizing. Looking forward to reading many more of her books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2003

    AmAzINg!!!!!!!!!!!! wow.....

    This book was well worth the read. A lot of books you see out nowadays aren't worth the paper. This one was worth every page. It is destined to be a classic for years to come. It's an adventure, an experience that you are not likely to foget anytime soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    Different- thought provoking & engrossing.

    I have found myself revisiting this novel often throughout the days and even within my dreams. An unusual plot, taking place during a period in time, often untouched in novels. It really brought to light again, the risks of fanatacism. Filled with deep emotion--Isabelle with her children, and Ella with her inner turmoil... She brought her characters to life in a living landscape drawn within the leaves of the pages. Once I began this book I found it difficult to walk away from, and read it in less than 5 hours.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2014

    Awesome!

    I just couldn't put it down, in a maraton of two days i devoured this increible piece.
    Its fast reading, very well researched and fabulos.
    Simply a most read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2014

    Weird

    Not worth reading boring did not make sense at times

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 82 Customer Reviews

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