Short Story Review: Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Duchess and the Jeweller’

Posted on 17. Jun, 2011 by in Blog, Short Story Reviews

First of all, a confession: I adore Virginia Woolf’s short prose but her novels leave me cold. I can’t digest more than a few pages of her stream-of-consciousness style. In fact, I have never completed one of her books, as short as they are. Just can’t do it. I read a page or two, my eyelids droop, my mind wanders, and I put the book down and pick up something else.

John Gardner, famous writer and critic, said, “The writer who cares more about words than about story – characters, action, setting, atmosphere – is unlikely to create a vivid and continuous dream; he gets in his own way too much; in his poetic drunkenness, he can’t tell the cart – and its cargo – from the horse.”

Many of Woolf’s short works are fabulous examples of poetic drunkenness; her prose spins my brain and fills me with longing and joy. I have fallen asleep reading ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ and dreamt luminous dreams of snub-nosed monsters rising from the deep. Just a single paragraph of her prose is inspirational and always humbling.

The Duchess and the Jeweller, however, is more than just glorious prose. Only five-and-a-half pages long, it’s a fascinating, compassionate story about Oliver Bacon, a wealthy London jeweller who seems to have everything. It has typical Woolfian touches of poetic drunkenness as well as a traditional plot with an easily-identifiable beginning, middle and end – in short, a classic short story plot.

So the next issue of our newsletter, LITERARY DELIGHTS, will include this story and the writing tip, ‘How to Plot a Short Story’, as illuminated by Woolf; a point of craft that’s quick and easy to understand and then apply to your own writing.

To receive this, as well as some little-known facts about Woolf, sign up for LITERARY DELIGHTS HERE.

To read Woolf’s short shorts, ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’, please CLICK HERE.

To read ‘Red’, a pastiche of Woolf’s short short, ‘Green’ by Tessa Smith McGovern, published by Equinox (UK) and archived by the English Arts Council at the Southbank Centre in London, CLICK HERE.

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