The Duchess and the Jeweller Characters
Oliver Bacon, the jeweler, is really the only developed character in the short story. The Duchess is more of a stock figure, entering Bacon's office with "the aroma, the prestige, the arrogance, the pomp" of any of her kind, explicitly represented as "all the Dukes and Duchesses swollen in one wave." Like an effective political cartoon, she has a dominant feature, in this case the image of the wave, which Woolf, in a metaphoric flourish, uses to convey her presence:
And as a wave breaks, she broke, as she sat down, spreading and splashing and falling over Oliver Bacon, the great jeweler, covering him with sparkling bright colors . . . for she was very large, very fat, tightly girt in pink taffeta.
The contrast between the sprawling, voluminous being and the confinement of her garments expresses her lack of inner discipline or firm character, and words like "shut," "subsided," and "sank" convey her generally downward course. Her accoutrements are similarly corrupted, her purse containing fake jewels likened to a "ferret's belly," and she is ready to sell anything, including her "honor" or her daughters, although she and Bacon camouflage their real intentions with a language of deception. As "the daughter of a hundred Earls" who exudes "the swords and spears of Agincourt" (that is, the long legacy of English triumphalism) she is still a formidable, if hollow figure.
It is Bacon, though, who interests Woolf. The story is his, and Woolf's depiction of the enterprising merchant is tinged with ambivalence. Her distaste for his strutting smugness is evident in her use of animal metaphors to portray him—from his name, to his physical bearing ("his nose was long and flexible, like an elephant's trunk"), to his ambition compared to a "giant hog" snuffing for truffles or a "camel (that) sees the blue lake"—and in the way 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 treasure, the jewels—" shining, cool, yet burning eternally, with their own compressed light"—his excitement is evident as he gives human attributes to the gems.
"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!" and his exultation at this subversive, even revolutionary...
(The entire section is 634 words.)