Vanity and Supremacy: Count Fosco in Sum

During the scene in which Walter observes Count Fosco from above during the opera, he describes him in such a way that reveals both the artifice and the reality of the man’s public persona, going so far as to say that “the man’s voracious vanity devoured this implied tribute to his local and critical supremacy.” (Collins 569). This sentence is significant for its connections with consumption from both “voracious” and “devoured,” as well as the implied power structures from “tribute” and “supremacy.”

In this section of the text, Walter reveals that Count Fosco delights in his ability to walk about in public as the figure of the respectable gentleman, fooling everyone around him into believing that he is a considerate citizen, no more devious than anyone else. He feeds off of people’s impressions of him and the power they give him because of his vanity, even as he relies on the vanity’s of his victims to convince them of the mask he wears in general society. His is the mask of restraint and carefully calculated moves, always within the civil and socially acceptable as long as he is in the public eye. This mask is also a part of his vanity; he dresses in a distinguished manner, and never appears undignified, even when he is tittering at his little birds, thus preserving the illusion and demonstrating his tight control over his emotions, contrasting starkly with Sir Percival, who essentially dies because of his inability to separate desperation from his decisions.

The concept of giving tribute has colonial interpretations, reminiscent of indigenous peoples forced to give food, goods, and riches to their conquerors as a sign of submission and to allow them to amass their desired wealth. According to Walter’s descriptions of Count Fosco, the man believes that everyone around him is his inferior and therefore honors him by submitting to his influence. In fact, the only character who Count Fosco has not viewed as inferior is Marian. This power structure in which he holds complete supremacy over the other characters controls the entire plot of the novel, which rests on the loss of identity to those members of society (women) who are given no legal agency over their own lives and therefore do depend entirely on their male counterparts. Taking advantage of this unequal structure allows Count Fosco to feed his vanity by testing his own skills at pulling strings, gaining eventual control over nearly every event that occurs.


4 thoughts on “Vanity and Supremacy: Count Fosco in Sum”

  1. As I read your analysis of Fosco, I really started to think about the similarities between him and David Faux. Both are enraptured by sweets, but more importantly they manipulate others for their own purposes, hiding behind false identities. Their manipulations affect women in both cases. Faux steals from his mother and proceeds to trick a family into letting him marry their daughter, which would benefit Faux socially and monetarily. Fosco has manipulated his wife into complete submission and proceeds to wreak havoc in Marion, Laura, and Anne’s lives. It is interesting that these two men with false identities both manipulate others to women’s detriment are so linked to confections. I wonder how much of this relationship is present in other literature of the Victorian era.

  2. I’m particularly interested in your ideas about Fosco and Marian, especially considering the similarities to Dracula (which was published in 1897). Dracula aka “The Count” is a foreign aristocrat from a non-Anglo Saxon country where Catholicism is the primary religion (sounds familiar?). Mina Harker, who is one of two human women in the novel, is his ultimate goal in taking over England, yet she is his equal. In her resolution and willpower as wells as blending of gender roles Marian is the counterpart of Fosco, and even she can feel herself being drawn to him. The Victorian lesson? Foreigners are bad.

  3. It’s so interesting to me how the language of consumption has come into play in connection with Count Fosco in the novel and in this blog post specifically. We get “voracious” and “devoured,” we hear about Fosco eating sweets like it’s his job, and more than once in this post Fosco “feeds” his vanity or “feeds off” his public appearance. Part of Fosco’s threat is the threat of consumption; he eats all the time, he removes (or consumes) Laura’s identity, and he behaves as a predator throughout. Possession and consumption are linked in TWIW, and Fosco embodies both concepts, as possessor and consumer.

  4. I think comparing this post to “Mrs. Catherick and her Golden Watch” is very eye opening due to the similarities between Mrs. Catherick and Count Fosco. As I was reading portions of this post I couldn’t help, but think of Mrs. Catherick, for example: “He feeds off of people’s impressions of him and the power they give him because of his vanity…”. Catherick lives for the impression she leaves on her town and in her treatment of Laura proves to be very self-centered. In “Golden Watch” the author discusses how Catherick sits around and does nothing. This is interesting because she shares the same character traits as Fosco and as the “Golden Watch” author points out she holds many of the key secrets to the text giving her the edge to be potentially as manipulative as Fosco. That leaves the question of why isn’t Catherick more like Fosco. I think there are a couple directions this can be taken in. It could be because she is a woman, but it could also be because she is English, or potentially both. As an English woman, Catherick must be passive. She is an easy character to make a villain, but if you think about she never actively does anything. Yes, she gives Glyde permission to lock Anne away but it’s Glyde who actually does it. That is the key difference between Fosco and Catherick. The later lets life happen to her but the former makes life happen.

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