The Duchess and the Jeweller

by Virginia Woolf

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Why is the Jeweller dissatisfied with his life in "The Duchess and the Jeweller"?

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The jeweller is dissatisfied with his his life in "The Duchess and the Jeweller" because no matter how much he has, he always wants more. This is rooted in his shame over his poor, obscure childhood, to him a stain he can never wash away.

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Oliver Bacon, the jeweller, has everything and nothing—his life is a paradox. He has wealth, possessions, jewels, and the respect and envy of others.

Yet, his life is empty, because he has no one to share it with. Diana, the daughter of the Duchess, is the object of his desire. She also becomes his Achilles heel: once the Duchess invites him to her estate for the weekend, Oliver ultimately pays for the pearls without having their authenticity checked. He hopes to see Diana, so he writes the check for twenty thousand, despite a suspicious feeling that gnaws at him, since the Duchess has lied to him before. Oliver is so lonely and so in love with Diana that he takes the chance, “For … it is to be a long week-end.”

Also, Oliver seems to show an insecurity, as if he were that poor little boy he used to be; he often thinks of his mother, imagining her reprimanding him for selling stolen dogs. He remembers his mother chiding him for having no sense. Although he has everything now, he “dismantled himself often” by feelings of being that little boy who had nothing. Feelings of insecurity follow him as he thinks back to the disgrace of poverty. No matter how wealthy he becomes, inside he is still the same.

Additionally, no matter how much Oliver has, he always wants more. He is not satisfied with having turned misfortune into fortune. Woolf compares him to a hog seeking truffles:

after unearthing this truffle and that, still it smells a bigger, a blacker truffle under the ground further off. So Oliver snuffed always in the rich earth of Mayfair another truffle, a blacker, a bigger further off.

Oliver thinks about his life and recognizes that he is dissatisfied and sad. The wealth and prestige of being England’s wealthiest jeweler will never be enough.

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The jeweller, Oliver, is dissatisfied because no matter how much he has, he always wants more. The narrator likens Oliver to a hog, saying,

Oliver snuffed always in the rich earth of Mayfair another truffle, a blacker, a bigger further off.

He is also compared to a camel, desiring what he doesn't have despite the great hump of water (plenty) already on his back. The speaker states,

the camel is dissatisfied with its lot; the camel sees the blue lake and the fringe of palm trees in front of it.

Oliver's interior monologues give us a clue as to the root of his dissatisfaction: he grew up poor, a boy from an alley who initially tried to raise money by stealing pet dogs and selling them back to their owners. Although he is now a vastly wealthy jeweler, no amount of money is able to wash away the stain of his poor childhood and lack of pedigree:

For was he not still a sad man, a dissatisfied man, a man who seeks something that is hidden, though he had won his bet?

The Duchess is able to manipulate the jeweler's desire for acceptance and inclusion. In return for what he covets, a weekend at her grand country estate with her daughter Diana and the prime minister, he buys worthless pearls from her for 20,000 pounds, a vast amount of money. However, as we know, and as he knows in his heart, no matter how many invitations he gets to her grand country weekends, he will never be accepted as one of them by the Duchess and her set. And even if he were, it would not be good enough, because his dissatisfaction is a problem within his own soul.

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In the short story "The Duchess and the Jeweller" by Virginia Woolf, Oliver, the Jeweller, is dissatisfied with his life because no matter how much wealth he has accumulated, he will always be the little boy who was "selling stolen dogs to fashionable women in Whitechapel" (1, paragraph 2). That is, he will never overcome his insecurities as the boy who began his life in the filthy alley and who gained wealth through swindling people. His greatest wish to be of the upper class cannot be purchased; it is a birthright.

When the Duchess arrives to sell Oliver the fake pearls, he almost declines the purchase. However, when she invites him to spend a long weekend using her daughter, Diana, as bait and then adding that His Royal Highness, The Prime Minister (3, paragraph 20) will be there, he writes her the check for the pearls as he silently apologizes to his mother's picture. Therefore, Oliver's dissatisfaction with his life is the result of his being of born low class, and his money cannot make him of noble birth. The Duchess is the powerful victor as she has swindled the swindler, and he accepts being cheated because of his own insecurity.

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In the short story “The Duchess and the Jeweller” by Virginia Woolf, the Jeweller is a dissatisfied with a life that includes the finest material things, servants, and a burgeoning jewelry business. But why? Oliver Bacon’s story includes flashbacks to his life as a poor, small boy when his mother constantly berated him to use common sense and to make something of himself. He becomes the richest, most respected jeweler in London who has admirers in the business all over Europe. What he does not have is someone to love, someone to share the fruits of his labor with. He is in love with the daughter of the Duchess of Lambourne and he sells his soul to be with her by giving the Duchess money to pay her gambling debts by buying fake pearls from her. Again, he has a flashback to his mother as he stands before her portrait. He justifies his actions by telling himself he will get to spend a weekend with Diana, the daughter of the Duchess, and other aristocrats that will be in attendance.

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