The miniaturist, p.34
The Miniaturist, p.34Jessie Burton
Still in her coat, Nella leaves them in the salon, crossing the marble tiles to the front door, which was left ajar in haste. She pulls it wide, standing on the threshold, the cooling air upon her cheeks. Sunday evening bells have started over the roofs of Amsterdam, and the churches’ clanging harmonies rise high. Dhana trots up to greet her young mistress, proffering her head for a pat. ‘Have they fed you, my beauty?’ Nella asks the dog, rubbing the silk of her lovely ears.
As the bells call the coming night, Nella sees the small white crescent moon, like a lady’s fingernail curved in the darkening sky. Cornelia passes through the hall, apron tied, head turned towards her kitchen. ‘It’s cold, Madame,’ she calls. ‘Come in.’
But Nella remains gazing along their stretch of frozen canal. A line of melting ice now runs along its edges. Warmer water has begun to fray the Herengracht’s wintry hem, and it looks to her like punched lace, the lining of a giant crib.
Cornelia drops a pan in the kitchen. There is shushing from the salon as Thea sallies a cry. Lysbeth and Otto’s voices float over the tiles. Nella reaches in her coat pocket to bring out the miniature house she took from the Kalverstraat, but it is no longer there. That cannot be right, she thinks, digging into the fabric. The little baby is still there – so is the miniature of Arnoud. So did I drop it, running through the city streets? Did I leave it in the workshop? You saw it, she tells herself. It was real.
Real or not, Nella has it no longer – but the five figures that the miniaturist had put inside it still remain inside this house. The young widow, the wet-nurse, Otto and Thea, Cornelia – will they come to know the secrets of each other’s lives? They are all loose threads – but that has ever been the case, thinks Nella. We make a hopeful tapestry; no one to weave it but ourselves.
Dusk has slipped to night, and the smell of nutmeg wafts; Dhana’s little body warms the side of Nella’s skirts. The sky is a vast sea flowing between the roofs; it is too large for the naked eye to see how it began, or where it will end. Its depth, infinite to Nella in possibility, begins to draw her further from the house.
‘Madame?’ Cornelia calls.
She turns, inhaling the scent of spice. Stealing one last look at the air above, Nella steps inside.
A Seventeenth-Century Dutch Glossary
Bewindhebber – partner of the VOC. Often had a lot of capital invested in the company.
Bourse – between 1609 and 1611, the first Commodity Exchange (or Bourse) was built on a part of the Rokin canal. The bourse consisted of a rectangular courtyard surrounded by arcades where trading took place.
Donderbus – literally ‘thunder-pipe’, an early form of shotgun.
Gebuurte – a neighbourhood group, taking common care of order, safety, public quiet, assisting a neighbour in distress, being there as intermediary in domestic conflicts, providing help in upcoming deaths and in burials.
Guilder – (Gulden) a silver coin first minted in 1680, divided into 20 stuivers or 160 duits. Larger denominations came in note form.
Herenbrood – literally a ‘gentlemen-bread’ that would be eaten by the wealthy. Made with wheat flour, cleaned and ground, as opposed to a cheaper rye bread.
Hooft’s True Fool (‘Warenar’) – a 1617 tragicomedy about moderation, greed and obsession. Warenar the miser has a daughter, Claartje, illegitimately pregnant by a suitor of whom Warenar does not approve. In the seventeenth century, Amsterdam developed into the centre of the international book trade, and books were not much subject to government censorship. Those that were banned in other countries were published in Amsterdam.
Hutspot – a meat and vegetable stew, everything thrown into one pot.
Kandeel – known in English as a ‘caudle’, a spiced drink made with wine, sometimes thickened with ground almonds, wheat starch, dried fruit, honey, sugar and egg yolks.
Olie-koecken – an early form of the doughnut. Wheat-flour with raisins, almonds, ginger, cinnamon, clove and apple, fried in oil and rolled in sugar.
Pattens – clog-like shoes that were worn inside and out, to protect the softer shoe from dirt.
Puffert – raised pancake fried in a pan.
Schepenen – if the schout was a sheriff or chief magistrate, the schepenen was a male group of magistrates. When acting in a judicial capacity, the schepenen were often referred to as the schepenbank. One of the functions of the schepenbank was to pass judgement on criminals, thereby functioning as a jury or magistrates’ bench. As a result, the word schepen is often translated into English as ‘magistrate’ in this Dutch historical context.
Schout – this is the Dutch word for a sheriff, or bailiff. He oversaw legal proceedings of cases in the Stadhuis, rather like a chief magistrate.
Spinhuis – women’s prison in Amsterdam, founded in 1597. Inmates were set to work spinning and sewing.
Stadhuis – the City Hall, now the Royal Palace in Dam Square. The testimonies and the deliberations of cases took place in the Schoutkamer, and the prison and the torture chamber were in the basement. The death penalty was pronounced in the basement by the schout, in front of the accused and in the presence of a pastor. Any audience could hear the sentence, standing in a limited space on the ground level, looking down into this sentencing room. The Amsterdam Exchange Bank was also housed in the Stadhuis cellar, holding all kinds of coins, gold nuggets and lumps of silver in safekeeping. Depositors were credited with the equivalent amount in guilders. The Exchange Bank also carried out money transfers from the account of one client to that of another.
Verkeerspel – an early Dutch version of backgammon, often depicted in paintings to remind people not to become complacent. The word means ‘game of change’.
Salary comparisons at the end of the seventeenth century in Amsterdam
By the last quarter of the seventeenth century, 0.1% of the Amsterdam rich owned about 42% of the total wealth of the city.
The Receiver General of the Republic (the top position in government) had a salary of 60,000 guilders a year in 1699.
A rich merchant like Johannes would be earning something in the region of 40,000 guilders a year, aside from his assets which accounted for a separate and substantial tranche of wealth – hugely successful merchants had been known to leave bequests of up to 350,000 guilders.
An Amsterdam schout or sheriff (a high position in the republic’s machine) might earn 9,000 guilders a year.
A surgeon might earn about 850 guilders a year.
A middling or master guildsman (shoemaker, chandler, baker) might earn 650 guilders a year. (Arnoud and Hanna’s income is high, but they have combined their incomes and been lucky at the Bourse.)
An ordinary labourer might earn about 300 guilders a year, or 22 stuivers a day.
Sample household costs of a wealthy Amsterdammer in the late 1600s
A man’s shirt – 1 guilder
A debt to an apothecary – 2 guilders 10 stuivers
A woman’s simple skirt – 2 guilders
Widow’s benefit from her husband’s guild – 3 guilders a week
Small landscape or Biblical painting – 4 guilders
A house gown – 10 guilders
A debt to a surgeon – 15 guilders
A painting in a gilt frame of a sea battle – 20 guilders
A decent linen cupboard – 20 guilders
A debt to a shoemaker – 2 3 guilders
An Italianized hunting landscape in the style of Cuyp – 3 5 guilders
A coat and vest – 50 guilders
A fancy nut-wood linen cupboard – 60 guilders
A damask dress – 95 guilders
A debt to a tailor – 110 guilders
A horse and sleigh – 120 guilders
A hundred pounds of lobster – 120 guilders
Entry into one of the more exclusive guilds (such as silver and goldsmiths, painters, wine-merchants) – 400 guilders
Twelve silver plates – 800 guilders
A house for a small-scale tradesman and his family – 900
A tapestry bought for a room in a Herengracht canal house – 900 guilders
A string of diamonds – 2,000 guilders
A miniature cabinet house, furnished with 700 items over several years – c.30,000 guilders.
The Early Readers: Jake Arnott, Lorna Beckett, Mahalia Belo, Pip Carter, Anna Davis, Emily de Peyer, Polly Findlay, Ed Griffiths, Antonia Honeywell, Susan Kulkarni, Hellie Ogden, Sophie Scott, Teasel Scott and the women of the Pageturners book group. Thank you for not saying it was rubbish and for your always kind, useful and imaginative observations. My fortune in friends indicates that in the next life I will return as a mosquito.
The Three Graces with pens and exclamation marks: my UK editor, Francesca Main, who has blended extraordinary commentary and observation with kindness and sensitivity – and my editors in the USA and Canada, Lee Boudreaux and Jennifer Lambert, whose acumen and enthusiasm have made this the most shining book it could be. Thank you so much, all three, for believing in both me and the miniaturist.
At Picador, a huge thank you to Sandra Taylor, Jodie Mullish and Sara Lloyd for all your work and good humour, to Paul Baggaley for the pastoral support, and to Nicholas Blake for your detailed eye. Thank you also to Line Lunnemann Andersen, Martin Andersen, Katie Tooke, the design team at Picador, and Dave Hopkins, who have made such a wonderful UK cover design, complete with a real miniature house. Deep thanks also to Greg Villepique and Ryan Willard at Harper Ecco.
Marga de Boer at Luitingh-Sijthoff, for her excellent observations on the infrastructure of Amsterdam, on the life of the real Petronella Oortman and her husband Johannes, and for legal and civic accuracies in late seventeenth-century Holland. Any inaccuracies and flights of fancy are mine alone, and my Nella’s biography is a completely fictional creation.
For the Medical Advice: thank you to Jessica Cutler, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Victoria Scott. Again, any anomalies are the fault of my over-active imagination alone.
For the hawk-eyes: Gail Bradley.
Edward Behrens & Penny Freeman, who so kindly let me isolate myself in their respective houses, where there was no internet – just time, and peace, and quiet. And wine.
Sasha Raskin, for handling The Miniaturist in the USA so brilliantly.
To my agent, Juliet Mushens: consigliera, champion, superstar, friend. For making this experience so fun, so wonderful – you are an exceptional agent and an astonishing human being.
To Linda and Edward, also known as Mum and Dad. For reading to me when I was little, for taking me to the library and for buying me books. For saying, ‘Why don’t you write a story?’ when I was bored at six years old, at twelve, at twenty-seven. For always, always being there.
To Margot, for being nothing but a useless ball of fur who stamps on my keyboard.
And to Pip. I don’t know how to begin. For seven years of love and friendship, thought, hilarity and wonder – thank you. You are extraordinary. My lucky soul.
JESSIE BURTON was born in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.
First published 2014 by Picador
This electronic edition published 2014 by Picador
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Dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman, anonymous, c. 1686 – c. 1710, Rijksmuseum
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Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist
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