Count Fosco, Femme Fatale

Like many character in the novel, I find myself attracted to and interested in Count Fosco in spite of myself. As the primary villain and an obvious creep, ordinarily I would turn my attention to other characters like Laura, Walter, or Marian. That being said, I keep returning to Count Fosco.  I simply cannot help myself. Therein lies his power. His character is a true enigma: obviously wicked, but deliciously exciting and charismatic. Perhaps his most fascinating trait is his ability to use sexuality and sex as a means to achieve his desires. He uses the others’ attraction to him for his own ends, and is thus able to control and manipulate all of the other players in the narrative. His wife, for example, literally eats out of the palm of his hand (p. 222) and is complicit in his crimes.  Sex becomes the force through which Fosco creates chaos.  Marian also becomes a victim of count Fosco. She knows that he is dangerous, but still finds herself drawn to his charm and seduced by his charisma. Count Fosco operates as a femme fatale within the novel. He uses sexuality as a means of manipulation. He is an exception to most forms of literature, however, because he is male while most characters who weaponize sex are women. The traditional femme fatale is almost always young, gorgeous, dark, and sultry. Count Fosco, on the other hand, is rotund and old. His allure (and perhaps some of the distrust) can be traced back to the xenophobia surrounding his foreignness (he is an Italian). Like many femme fatales, he appears dark and mysterious, almost exotic in stark contrast to the more delicate female characters who populate the pages of the novel.

The scene where his femme fatale nature becomes most explicit is the moment where he writes in Marian’s journal after she has fallen ill. Like the femme fatale who triumphs after her prey has fallen asleep after sex, here too Marian is at her most vulnerable when she has been weakened (possibly poisoned) by Count Fosco.

“I breathe my wishes for her recovery.  I condole her on the inevitable failure of every plan she has formed for her sister’s benefit.” (p. 336)

Here Fosco makes his wicked nature explicitly known, along with his mocking respect for his mark, Marian.  Marian, like many a character before her, knows that Fosco (the femme fatale) is no good, yet takes the bait anyway.  Fosco even seems to lament this in the postscipt he adds to her diary.  On one hand, he claims wish for her “recovery”, yet as a possible cause (what really made her sick?) of her sickness, this passage reeks of irony.  Even if his wish was sincere, the next statement, offering condolences on her failed plans, makes it clear that Fosco is glad to have bested her.  Like many a great villian, Fosco cannot help but to gloat in his victory.