The Silent Communication in "The Duchess and the Jeweler" by Virginia Woolf


The Duchess and the Jeweler is the story of the world’s greatest jeweler who had promised his mother to become the richest jeweler in the world in his childhood but now that his dream has materialized he does not feel satisfied. So trying to achieve satisfaction, knowingly he buys fake pearls from a Duchess in exchange for passing a whole weekend with her daughter whom he is in love with. The purpose of this essay is to show how Virginia Woolf has successfully presented the inner mind of the characters, their struggle and their communication through the least amount of verbal communication among them.

The silent communication created by Woolf’s “The Duchess and the Jeweler” is firstly the communication between the reader and the story and secondly the communication between the characters in the text themselves. In better words this story firstly reveals the mind of the characters to the reader through the least amount of explicit expression of their states and secondly presents the interaction among the characters of the story through the fewest possible dialogues among them.

The first stance in the unvoiced communication between the reader and the story is the revelation of the childhood memories of Oliver Bacon that takes place without the author’s giving voice to them. The very first acquaintance of the reader with Oliver’s childhood takes place when he addresses himself: “you who began life in the filthy little alley” and then falls in to his childhood memories. This very short statement of Oliver to himself is very expressive of his childhood and also of his attitude towards this period of his life. Through the author’s prior descriptions of the living place of Oliver, his servant and his habits it is revealed that Oliver Bacon is a very affluent man now while this short self-address reveals his childhood poverty. Also it is through his retrospections that the readers get aware that he has started with selling stolen dogs, continued with selling watches in a little counter, and finally has promoted to his present profession as a jeweler. So it is mostly through Oliver’s silent remembrances that the reader gets familiar with his early days. Also this little talk of Oliver to himself shows the reader that he has a pre-occupation with his childhood and all the efforts he has gone through in order to save all his money. Though he never mentions this, his constant retrospections show the importance that his childhood has for him. As an example when Oliver is in his room just before the entrance of the Duchess, he starts thinking of his boyhood passed in misery and hard times. This shows how Virginia Woolf cunningly, without explicit mentioning of Oliver’s pre-occupation with his childhood, interacts with the reader through the character’s retrospections and gives the reader the chance to get involved with the text. Therefore the mind of Oliver and also his general history is disclosed to the reader through the least number of spoken words of the character.

Woolf has also took the advantage of using imagery in order to disclose to the reader this state of dissatisfaction of Oliver through her language of signs and images as an alternative to the words. She resembles Oliver to a camel that is entrapped in the zoo, and is not satisfied with its life, because it can see “the blue lake and the fringe of palm trees in front of it.” In other words, Oliver wants more and more and in spite of all his gatherings he feels like a mere camel that is thirsty of the water it sees but is not able to reach it. Also the reader reads the Oliver’s loneliness and his need of a soul mate, when Oliver remembers the days when “mademoiselle used to pick one (red rose) every morning and stick it in his button-hole.” This picture gives the reader the understanding that Oliver is feeling the lack of an anima in his life; that there has been someone who probably Oliver had a sense of love for (image of red rose) and who has left Oliver due to his greed for money. This is confirmed later on by the text itself: “but mademoiselle had married Mr. Pedder of the local brewery- no one stuck roses in his buttonholes.” This sentence again confirms his loneliness and his need of a wife, though this is not mentioned directly by Oliver himself.

The revelation of the dominance of Oliver’s mother over his life and the fact that she has been dictating him all her life and is even now after her death dictating her, is understood through his constant remembrance of his mother in all his choice makings in his life though this is never mentioned directly in the story. He remembers his mother reprimanding him when he stole dogs as a child and when he buys the fake pearls from the duchess at the end of the story he asks the forgiveness of the old woman in the picture and again feels like a little boy. So these constant rememberings of his mother also imply to the reader his mother’s dominance over him even after her death though this is just understood and never stated.

The reader also gets aware of Oliver’s arrogance and pride, in his contacts with his workers though there hardly takes place a conversation with them; In the first contact of the workers with Oliver at his shop, there is no spoken communication; however through their “envying look” the reader understands their attitudes to Oliver and his indifference to them is revealed as the author says ” it was only with one finger of the amber-colored glove, waggling that he acknowledged their presence.” This unspoken interaction between them is to a large extent expressive of their attitude towards each other.

As mentioned earlier, this unspoken communication between the reader and the text takes place among the characters of the story as well. The very first silent communication among the characters occurs when Oliver as a youngster is passing through a group of jewelers discussing the price of gold and “one of them would lay a finger to the side of his nose and murmur, ‘hum-m-m,’ as he passed. It was no more than a murmur; no more than a nudge on the shoulder, a finger on the nose, a buzz that ran through the cluster of the jewelers…but still Oliver felt it purring down his spine, the nudge, the murmur that meant, ‘ look at him- young Oliver, the young jeweler- there he goes.” As the text says the slightest gestures of the jewelers has meant a lot of encouraging words to Oliver and he is still remembering that murmur among the jewelers.

The next stance of the non-voiced interaction among the characters is the communication between Oliver and the Duchess. At the visit of the Duchess to Oliver’s shop, the very colorful descriptions of the author of the Duchess, her dressing, her glittering jewels, her fragrance, her wave-like moving and her resemblance to a peacock in beauty and arrogance reveals much of her high status and the influence that she can have upon Oliver. However their communications is not restricted to a non-spoken conversation; a dialogue takes place between them, though this communication is through the least number of words. They speak but their use of words is very economical that makes their interaction the most efficient. An example of this brief interaction is fragmented words of the duchess when she wants to persuade Oliver to buy her fake pearls; she drops the pearls out of a bag: “‘From the Appleby cincture’ she moaned. ‘ the last…the last of them all'”. And she continuous justifying her desperateness:” Dear Mr. Bacon, a bit of bad luck…” and then she justifies her cause of coming as “‘that villain! That sharper'” that explains her objection to her husband. These brief, simple and seemingly fragmented conversations between the Duchess and the Jeweler depict very clearly their inner states and attitudes towards each other. We understand that both Oliver and the Duchess understand the meaning of this speechless communication. Also as soon as they shake hands they feel the enmity among them though they also sense the need they have to each other so they both take part in this game of deceiving and submitting to the deception. A clue of this is their play upon the phrase : “old friend” when the Duchess tries to soften Oliver by calling him “old friend” two times and Oliver who understands this what she means, repeats her phrase two more times. Their speechless communication continues up to the point that Oliver buys the fake pearls from the Duchess without questioning the Duchess.

In “The Duchess and the Jeweler” Virginia Woolf skillfully depicts the greatest amount of communication that takes place between the characters in the text in spite of their lack of verbal communication and also the deep understanding that the readers can get of the characters within the text though their emotions and states of mind is not expressed explicitly. She replaces the lengthy dialogues and direct descriptions of the states of the characters with brief but meaningful dialogues and use of images and entrance in to the mind of the characters and giving the reader the chance to read much of their present state and enough of their past lives needed to accomplish her story.


Source by Farzaneh Bolourieh