The Duchess and the Jeweller

by Virginia Woolf

Start Free Trial

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

Quick answer:

The main theme of "The Duchess and The Jeweller" by Virginia Woolf is the corrupting influence of money and greed. Both Oliver Bacon and the Duchess compromise their integrity for personal gain—Bacon seeks social acceptance and the Duchess tries to resolve her financial issues. Their unscrupulous actions and mutual manipulation highlight how greed distorts judgment and moral values.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One possible theme is the way in which money corrupts people, making them do things they really shouldn't do. Oliver Bacon has money, plenty of it, but the one thing he lacks is social respectability. Despite his enormous wealth, high society still looks down on him as an upstart and a parvenu. The Duchess' financial embarrassment provides him with the opportunity he's been waiting for for a very long time: a chance to gain an entree into the very highest echelons of English society.

The Duchess has social respectability in abundance, but little in the way of hard cash thanks to her reckless gambling habit. So she turns to Bacon in the hope of easing her somewhat reduced circumstances. In their squalid little arrangement, both Bacon and the Duchess compromise their integrity to gain something they both desperately need.

Arguably, Bacon gets the better of the deal. Although he pays good money for something he knows to be fake, he's shown he has the confidence and the guile to wheedle his way into high society. And once he's there, it's unlikely that he'll ever leave. He might very well end up marrying the delectable Diana, which is what he really wants most of all.

It's also likely that the Duchess will continue in her profligate ways, racking up ever greater gambling debts. In doing so, she will become ever more indebted to Bacon, who will exert greater control over her life as a result. The suggestion here is that the aristocratic soul is destroyed by money, whereas the likes of Oliver Bacon have already been corrupted to such an extent that their souls are almost completely formed by money. Thus they have nothing more to lose in the spiritual sense of the term. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial