What is the main theme of "The Duchess and The Jeweller" by Virginia Woolf?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Virginia Woolf delves into the theme of the affect of greed on decision making in her story “The Duchess and the Jeweller.” In the story, both the Duchess and the jeweler have agendas, and both are corrupt in their judgement.

Coming from humble beginnings, Oliver Bacon, the jeweler, rises from his life as a destitute child to become the richest jeweler in England. His methods to increase his wealth and rise in society are not always use scrupulous

For her part, the Duchess accrues gambling debt, which she must address and hide. She uses the jeweler and her daughter to cover her indiscretions.   

They meet in the private office of his business establishment, where the corrupt pair make a deal. The Duchess presents Bacon with fake pearls, which he purchases when she promises a weekend with aristocrats and Diana, her daughter whom he covets. This is the price he pays to become upwardly mobile in society.

She unscrupulously deceives him by passing off the pearls as real, and all she has left. Bacon is so hungry to be included in her inner circle of friends that he pays her for the fake pearls and does not let on he knows they are bogus. The stakes are too high. The fake pearls are symbolic of his place in her level of society.  In essence, he is the fake among the aristocrats because he is of humble beginnings rather than aristocracy. It is not above either character to use greed for their own devices.

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