Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Duchess and the Jeweler" by Virginia Woolf

"The Duchess and the Jeweler"  by Virginia Woolf (1938, 6 pages)

The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project

"The Duchess and the Jeweler" by Virginia Woolf   (1882 to 1941-England) was first published in 1938 and then republished in A Haunted House and Other Stories in 1944.     This story is a straight forward traditional short story about a fabulously wealthy jeweler who now has among his clients the richest people in London.   He began his life in a very different way.    I found this work really beautifully written.     Oliver has come along a long way since his young days:

"Behold Oliver," he would say, addressing himself. "You who began
life in a filthy little alley, you who… " and he would look down at his
legs, so shapely in their perfect trousers; at his boots; at his spats. They
were all shapely, shining; cut from the best cloth by the best scissors in
Savile Row. But he dismantled himself often and became again a little
boy in a dark alley. He had once thought that the height of his ambition—
selling stolen dogs to fashionable women in Whitechapel

Oliver receives a call from Duchess of Lambourne, "daughter of a hundred Earls".    She awaited him in the  office of his shop.    Oliver derives an immense pleasure from thinking how a man of his origins could make the Duchess wait.     

I will tell no more of this story as the ending is really well done.   There is a controversy about whether or not this story can be construed as anti-Semitic.    It was a well known fact that all the wealthy jewelers in London were Jewish.    Woolf knew her readers knew this.    Many  will construe the  references to the long quivering nose of the jeweller as playing to anti-Semitic stereotypes.    

he was the richest jeweler in England; but his
nose, which was long and flexible, like an elephant's trunk, seemed to
say by its curious quiver at the nostrils (but it seemed as if the whole
nose quivered, not only the nostrils) that he was not satisfied yet; still
smelt something under the ground a little further off. Imagine a giant
hog in a pasture rich with truffles; after unearthing this truffle and that,
still it smells a bigger, a blacker truffle under the ground further off

In just  few short pages Woolf takes us deeply into the mind of the jeweler in this very interesting (leaving aside what else it might be) story.    I saw a few posts on this story indicating some people greatly dislike it for what seems to be its anti-Semitic  tone.   Of course that does not affect the literary merit of the story.     

This story can be read  online here

Mel u


Mystica said...

Thank you for the links!

Suko said...

This is the first review I've read of this short story. Thanks for the link--think I'll read this one myself!

Prem Saisha said...

Thanks for following,now I follow back to read your book reviews!