Count Fosco and The Prostitute

When initially looking at the chaos and crude happenings in the engraving titled “Mixing A Recipe for Corns”, I could not help but think of the main character in the image as a strange reflection of our dear Count Fosco in The Woman in White. Just as Count Fosco keeps a constant flurry of animals around him at all times, the woman in the engraving is surrounded by an uncomfortable number of little animals or animal references (such as peacock feathers). There even appears to be a cockatoo in the image, just as Count Fosco had a cockatoo, “a most vicious and treacherous bird towards towards every one else” (219). In the photo the wild animals add to the sense of frenzy and lack of control this woman has in her declining youth, whereas in The Woman in White, Count Fosco’s animals serve to show his desire for control, which highlights how a multitude of animals could be seen in contrasting lights based on the gender of who is controlling them.

I also noticed a similarity to Count Fosco in the subject of the engraving. The declining prostitute, who is wildly stirring a cauldron with one hand, is a bit gender ambiguous. I, at first, mistook the subject for a man, as the hair is tied away and the facial features err on the more manly side. Count Fosco also seems to have more feminine traits at times, such as his elaborate clothing and how he moves about a room, “he is as noiseless in a room as any of us woman” (219). In regards to the engraving, the prostitute is also the most colorful, and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to her and her activities instantly. This hearkens to the characters in the story, even Marian, who are inevitably drawn to this figure of Count Fosco. We discussed in the Trout Gallery that the prostitute seems almost witch-like, with her cauldron on the fire and bottles of potions thrown on the table and around her feet. This relates to Count Fosco’s obsession with alternative medicine, and all the references we have to his likeness for poison. Thus like the woman in the etching, it’s easy to picture Count Fosco deviously mixing a concoction of flowers and herbs to use against the other characters in the book.

Why did I spend so long pointing out the strange similarities between the prostitute in “Mixing A Recipe for Corns” and Count Fosco’s character in The Woman in White? I find it interesting that while these two people have many similar qualities, habits, and affinities, one is a withering prostitute who will spend her life teaching other women to learn how to degrade themselves to men and the other is a formidable man who has an immense amount of authority and respect. This just seems to highlight the influence of gender within the time period, and how males can flourish while holding the same characteristics of females, or in this case, a frumpy, old prostitute.


Cruikshank, George. Mixing a Recipe for Corns. 1835. Trout Gallery, Carisle. Web. 11 Oct 2016.

One thought on “Count Fosco and The Prostitute”

  1. The connection you made between Count Fosco and the woman in “Mixing a Recipe for Corns” is super interesting, and the way you’ve pointed it out makes me wonder how I didn’t think about that before! The animals, and the mixing recipes… Perhaps the woman in the artwork would have been considered as an “other,” like Count Fosco was with his nationality, because she was a prostitute? I also want to point out that Count Fosco too met his demise as a withered corpse laid out for viewing, so while he did get to exert his power for most of his life, he did meet his downfall in a similarly degrading way. The power dynamics, therefore, might be less than what might obviously appear…

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