“The Duchess and the Jeweller”, a story by Virginia Wolf, tells the tale of Oliver Bacon a man who grew up very poor but ended up a master jeweler with very rich and titled customers. Although his outward appearance is one of high breeding and richness it hides his insecurity and his longing for something else. Oliver is a tortured soul who cannot enjoy the fruits of his labor and his dissatisfaction with his life causes him to treat those around him with disdain and rudeness.
Oliver is a tall thin man with a long and flexible nose, “like an elephant’s trunk,..”. He is not a handsome man nor a friendly one. He walks down the street perfectly dressed “with his gloves, with his cane;” and strides through his shop without speaking to his employees and only acknowledges them with a waggle of “one finger of the amber coloured glove”. He reflects often on his past, his bet with his mother and how he “became the richest jeweler in England”. He dismantles himself repeatedly, becoming the frightened little boy in the alley, the little boy who had to sell stolen dogs to survive. This dismantling is a way for Oliver to keep the past in the present. It also contributes to his inability to rejoice in the accomplishments of his life. His basic mistrust of those around him causes him to look at others with disdain but it isn’t until he is enamoured with Diana, the daughter of the Duchess that he does something out of character.
As the story progresses we see Oliver try to be nice to the Duchess. He first makes her wait “in ten minutes”, he says “not before”. He keeps her waiting while he sits at his desk and daydreams again of little boy that was playing in the alley. Finally he goes to see her. He gets pleasure out of the fact that she is waiting on a chair at his counter. He likes that she would have to wait until he was ready for her. His motivation is clear, he does not like her, but he needs her. They are each others friend and each others enemy....
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