The Duchess and The Jeweller Summary by Virginia Woolf


The story is a strong rebuke (criticism) of the aristocratic society that celebrates the vices of materialism, lust, greed, and opportunism. The class-based society encourages and rewards people who are willing to do anything to gain an advantage in life.

The society has different levels with the rich occupying the topmost level. They try to consolidate their position by any means possible while the people on the lower levels do their best to migrate up to upper levels. This constant struggle offers people to employ unethical means and even exploit others in the process.

Mutual Greed

The story is based on a relationship of mutual greed and benefit between a jeweler named Oliver and his customer who is a Duchess. They both lust after wealth and material success even though they occupy different positions in the social hierarchy.

The Duchess is a woman of lavish lifestyle and yearns for more comforts at any price whereas Oliver is a self-made man who yearns to earn enough reputation and money to join the ranks of his customers.

A Fake Necklace

The Duchess has a pearl necklace that she wants to sell and approaches Oliver for the same. Oliver is doubtful about the authenticity of the pearls but is willing to accept it just to garner some goodwill with the Duchess.

Moreover, the Duchess is inclined to invite him to a dinner party with her husband and her daughter, Diana. Oliver is young, ambitious and single and thinks that if he can woo Diana, he might end up realizing his ling held ambition.

In a way, the transaction is akin to a fake necklace for a place in high society. It involves bartering of necklace for Diana’s hand in marriage. Oliver inspects and confirms that it is a fake but goes along with the Duchess’s ruse and accepts her offer.

There are moments when he struggles with his conscience to go ahead with the entire deal but eventually the lust for power and recognition triumphs over faltering ethics and morality.

Oliver Loses Twice

He escorts Diana to the dinner and tries to win her over. However, in the end, Diana decides to marry someone else and it breaks Oliver’s heart and dreams. He was duped twice by the Duchess, both with the pearls and the lure of marriage to her daughter Diana.

Through the example of Oliver, the writer also tries to highlight the point that if the power-hungry lower classes are as unethical as the rich classes then they are not in any way better equipped to share the power as they often lack the education and training that the rich have to go through at least.