The Duchess and the Jeweller

by Virginia Woolf

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Describe the Duchess's dealings with the jeweller in the story.

Quick answer:

The Duchess is a dishonest, manipulative elderly woman who uses her class status as a mask to hide her precarious financial situation. She exploits the jeweler’s vanity and social sensitivity and also uses her daughter as a lure in her plan to deceive him.

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Virginia Woolf’s story is a sharp critique of the British class system that portrays the upper-class as trying to uphold onto their social status at any expense. Although Woolf is not entirely sympathetic with the middle-class merchants who aspire to climb the social ladder, she is far more critical of the elites who both exploit and disdain them. While the Duchess is shown as increasingly desperate in her schemes to make money, she does not arouse the reader’s sympathy because she seems willing to use her own children to create the false impression that is necessary to completing her plan.

The fact that the Duchess is elderly points indicates that Woolf sees her as belonging to Britain’s past rather than its future. A title and property, including an elegant home, remain part of her birthright. However, her own poor choices are at least partly responsible for her decline: she has literally gambled away the financial security that should have provided for her children’s future. The Duchess is both ruthless and pathetic.

Bacon bears some of the responsibility for his own situation, however, because she has fooled him prior to the action in the story.. He anticipates learning that the pearls are fake because she has sold him other fake jewels before. She extends the bait of a possible relationship with Diana, which he knows in his heart will never develop but cannot resist accepting. Bacon’s ambition, however hopeless, feeds the Duchess’s appetite for cruelty, deceit, and even fraud.

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