Tulip Fever

Paperback | March 14, 2000

byDeborah Moggach

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Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, a city in the grip of tulip mania and basking the wealth it has generated. Cornelis, an ageing merchant, commissions a talented young painter to preserve his status and marriage on canvas. At the sittings, as a collector of beautiful things, Cornelis surrounds himself with symbols of his success, including his young wife, Sophia. But as the portrait grows, so does the passion between Sophia and the artist; and as ambitions, desires and dreams breed an intricate deception, their reckless gamble propels their lives towards a thrilling and tragic conclusion.

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Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, a city in the grip of tulip mania and basking the wealth it has generated. Cornelis, an ageing merchant, commissions a talented young painter to preserve his status and marriage on canvas. At the sittings, as a collector of beautiful things, Cornelis surrounds himself with symbols of his success, includin...

From the Jacket

Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, a city in the grip of tulip mania and basking the wealth it has generated. Cornelis, an ageing merchant, commissions a talented young painter to preserve his status and marriage on canvas. At the sittings, as a collector of beautiful things, Cornelis surrounds himself with symbols of his success, includin...

Deborah Moggach was born into a family of writers and has had fifteen novels published. She continues to successfully adapt her own and others' work for film and TV, including Close Relations, Stolen and Seesaw.Her most recent novel, Final Demand, is a poignant and beautifully written follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Tulip Fever. ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 7.8 × 5.1 × 0.8 inPublished:March 14, 2000Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0099288850

ISBN - 13:9780099288855

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Read from the Book

SophiaTrust not to appearances.-- Jacob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632We are eating dinner, my husband and I. A shred of leek is caught in his beard. I watch it move up and down as he chews; it is like an insect caught in the grass. I watch it idly, for I am a young woman and live simply, in the present. I have not yet died and been reborn. I have not yet died a second time -- for in the eyes of the world this will be considered a second death. In my end is my beginning; the eel curls round and swallows its own tail. And in the beginning I am still alive, and young, though my husband is old. We lift our wine flutes and drink. Words are etched on my glass: Mankind's hopes are fragile glass and life is therefore also short, a scratched homily through the sinking liquid.Cornelis tears off a piece of bread and dips it into his soup. He chews for a moment. "My dear, I have something to discuss." He wipes his lips with his napkin. "In this transitory life do we not all crave immortality?"I freeze, knowing what is coming. I gaze at my roll, lying on the tablecloth. It has split, during baking, and parted like lips. For three years we have been married and I have not produced a child. This is not through lack of trying. My husband is still a vigorous man in this respect. At night he mounts me; he spreads my legs and I lie there like an upturned beetle pressed down by a shoe. With all his heart he longs for a son -- an heir to skip across these marble floors and give a future to this large, echoing house on the Herengracht.So far I have failed him. I submit to his embraces, of course, for I am a dutiful wife and shall always be grateful to him. The world is treacherous and he reclaimed me, as we reclaimed our country from the sea, draining her and ringing her with dykes to keep her safe, to keep her from going under. I love him for this.And then he surprises me. "To this effect I have engaged the services of a painter. His name is Jan van Loos and he is one of the most promising artists in Amsterdam -- still lifes, landscapes, but most especially portraiture. He comes on the recommendation of Hendrick Uylenburgh, who as you know is a discerning dealer?Rembrandt van Rijn, newly arrived from Leiden, is one of his proteges."My husband lectures me like this. He tells me more than I want to know but tonight his words land noiselessly around me. Our portrait is going to be painted! "He is thirty-six, the same age as our brave new century." Cornelis drains his glass and pours another. He is drunk with the vision of ourselves, immortalized on canvas. Drinking beer sends him to sleep, but drinking wine makes him patriotic. "Ourselves, living in the greatest city, home to the greatest nation on the globe." It is only me sitting opposite him but he addresses a larger audience. Above his yellowed beard his cheeks are flushed. "For doesn't Vondel describe Amsterdam thus? What waters are not shadowed by her sails? On which mart does she not sell her wares? What peoples does she not see lit by the moon, she who herself sets the laws of the whole ocean?"He does not expect an answer for I am just a young wife, with little life beyond these walls. Around my waist hang keys to nothing but our linen chests, for I have yet to unlock anything of more significance. In fact, I am wondering what clothes I shall wear for my portrait. That is the size of my world so far. Forget oceans and empires.Maria brings in a plate of herrings and retreats, sniffing. Fog rolls in off the sea and she has been coughing all day. This hasn't dampened her spirits. I am sure she has a secret lover; she hums in the kitchen and sometimes I catch her standing in front of a mirror rearranging her hair under her cap. I shall find out. We are confidantes, or as much confidantes as our circumstances allow. Since I left my sisters she is the only one I have.Next week the painter will arrive. My husband is a connoisseur of paintings; our house is filled with them. Behind him, on the wall, hangs a canvas of Susannah and the Elders. The old men peer at the naked girl as she bathes. By daylight I can see their greedy faces, but now, in the candlelight, they have retreated back into the shadows; all I can see is her plump, pale flesh above my husband's head. He lifts a fish onto his plate. He is a collector of beautiful things.I see us as a painting. Cornelis, his white lace collar against black, his beard moving as he eats. The herring lying on my plate, its glistening, scored skin split open to reveal the flesh within; the parted lips of my roll. Grapes, plump and opaque in the candlelight; the pewter goblet glowing dully.I see us there, sitting at our dining table, motionless -- our own frozen moment before everything changes.After dinner he reads to me from the Bible. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass..."But I am already hanging on the wall, watching us.

Bookclub Guide

US1. What is tulip fever? 2. Tulips, flowers, and petals play a far greater role in the story than as simply a trading commodity. How? Why?3. "Turn the paintings round and enjoy their beauty, for they shall outlast us all," writes Cornelis in his final note. How is this ironic?4. In the 1630s, Amsterdam society was very hierarchical. Why is it that the lower class characters triumph in their goals and happiness? Do they want something so different from what the upper class protagonists want?5. Jan tells his apprentice that "all painting is deception," and yet when painting "Naked Woman on a Bed" he tells Sophia that, "this painting will not lie, it will tell the truth." Ultimately which is true? How are the paintings in the book truthful or deceptive?6. A water motif runs throughout the book. What is its significance? Why do you think the author chose to include it so prominently?7. Cornelis, so proud and admiring of his city of Amsterdam, is the only one to leave it behind. Why? 8. Which proves more seductive: love or tulips? Which proves more destructive?9. Religion and belief are present throughout the book. In the end, although all the characters have sinned, one (Sophia) turns to the church and one (Cornelis) turns away from it entirely. Why? Does Sophia make her decision based entirely on self-preservation or is there more to it?10. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?11. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?12. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?13. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?14. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds -- twice, which impacts him more?15. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?16. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?17. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?18. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?19. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds -- twice. Which impacts him more?

Editorial Reviews

"Beautifully written, a verbal kaleidoscope that flicks rapidly through vivid sensual experience."--The Independent on Sunday"Spirited and ingenious...Clever, spry, and sad in equal measure."--The Telegraph"Moggach reproduces the coded language of 17th-century Dutch art with subtle artfulness. At the same time, she tells a truly thrilling love story."--The Financial Times"Moggach's writing is as vivid as a splash of Vermeer's lemon yellow."--The Times"A gorgeous novel: both funny and tragic, full of sharply drawn characters and equally sharp insight into the transforming power of love--which can be as destructive as it is addictive."--The MailFrom the Hardcover edition.