THE DUCHESS AND THE JEWELLER
Oliver Bacon, the jeweller, is really the only developed character in the short story “The Duchess and the Jeweller” by Virginia Woolf. The author uses the indirect stream-of consciousness technique as well as her own words to depicts the enterprising merchant as a many-sided man: He is both ambitious and sympathetic.
The jeweller is highly arrogant and ambitious. His strutting smugness is evident through the animal metaphors used to portray him-from his physical bearing (“his nose was long and flexible, like an elephant’strunk”), to his ambition compared to a “giant hog” snuffing for truffles or a “camel sees the blue lake.”He reveals his heart’s deepest passion for cold stones rather than other human beings, especially since he does not have any real friends in the story. When Bacon opens his safe to relish his treasures, the jewels-“shining, cool, yet burning eternally, with their own compressed light”-his excitement is clear as he gives human attributes to the germs.
“Tears!” said Oliver, looking at the pearls.
“Heart’s blood!” he said, looking at the rubies.
But then, he exclaims “Gunpowder!” at the blazing light from the diamonds, “Gunpowder enough to blow Mayfair-sky high, high, high!” At this point, Bacon becomes not just the mercantile manipulator, but a man of the British ruling structure, an edifice so massive that much of the population remained flattened by its pressures.
However, our sympathies are with the man who recalls his youthful self, “you who began life in a filthy, little alley” and who still incarnates the spirit of “the wily astute little boy;” the man who still works in “the dark little shop in the street off Bond Street” rather than in the world of the Duchess who, for all her dissipation, still covers the jeweller “with sparkling bright colours;” the man who worships the memory of his mother and apologizes to her for paying the Duchess 20,000 pounds for junk, trading his self-respect and honor for the opportunity to consort with royalty. It is this conflict that gives Bacon a degree of integrity, since he is aware of his failure and it is his very human decision to waste some of his wealth to achieve what he wants that makes him at least moderately appealing: He dreams of “a long week-end” with Diana, the Duchess’s daughter. At the end of the story, when “again he was a little boy in the alley where they sold dogs on Sunday” we recognize the fundamental human nature of need and desires, and grant Bacon absolution for his failings.
In a nutshell, Oliver Bacon’s character is described vividly by the stream-of-consciousness technique together with Woolf’s words. From a little boy to a successful jeweller, his life can be regarded as a mixture of ambition sentimentality.