The Transference of Fear

Count Fosco in every sense is a villain and master manipulator. He habitually controls everyone and everything conceivable in his environment. In Freud’s terms Fosco is himself under a compulsion to repeat. Marian’s primary impression of him upon their first meeting is of “a man who could tame anything” (Collins, 217). Fosco certainly seems to have that mission, given that he has already “transformed her [Madame Fosco] into a civil, silent, unobtrusive woman” (Collins, 216) and has trained mice, a cockatoo, and canaries all to do his absolute bidding. Essentially, Fosco engages in mesmerism to control and manipulate those around him. Even Sir Percival is forced to succumb to Fosco’s will, calming when Fosco tells him too and adhering to a schedule based on Fosco’s “absolute will and pleasure” (Collins, 314).

Freud theorizes that the repetition of a certain action or habit is the result of repression and states that “the repetition is a transference of the forgotten past…onto all the other aspects of the current situation” (Freud, 151). Using this idea, we can theorize about Fosco’s character and his past. Freud believes that this form of compulsive action is the result of repressing and forgetting a memory and situation until the person “reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it” (Freud 150). We can then ask why Fosco repeatedly seeks to control those around him and what fear or past he represses.

There is certainly an intense desire or need for control as Count Fosco will go out of his way to control anyone in his environment. His interaction with Percival’s dog indicates that need as he actively seeks out that interaction to bully the dog into submission. He declares that the dog is an “infernal coward” and that the dog won’t hurt him as “I’m not afraid of you” (Collins, 221). In the end, the dog fears Fosco. While fear is not necessarily Fosco’s primary mode of control, he certainly uses it, and seems to enjoy using it more than his other tactics of mesmerism. When Marian is the victim of his intimidation tactics, she notes that “There was something horrible – something fierce and devilish in the outburst of his delight at his own singing and playing, and in the triumph with which he watched its effect upon me” (Collins, 314). Fosco is then, perhaps much like the bloodhound he bullies: a coward who represses his own constant fear, seeking instead to transfer it to others.

2 thoughts on “The Transference of Fear”

  1. I confess I hadn’t considered what circumstances led to Count Fosco being the way that he is! But you’ve presented some really interesting evidence. Maybe, like you referenced, Fosco had some experience with animals that has since led him to desire to control them. Fosco is a master villain, as you said, so it’s hard to imagine him before his dastardly deeds. But if we do, I think it would be necessary to also consider why he decided to join the secret society in the first place, and even what his experience as a fat man was through his life. His death scene struck me, as French onlookers literally crowded the area to get a glimpse of his body. Certainly this wasn’t the first time he was treated as an object on display because of his fatness. Perhaps some of his desire for control comes from that, too. I’d love to know more about Collins’ process of writing and intentions behind his character.

  2. The way you use Freud to unpack Fosco’s character reveals a lot about his controlling nature. I hadn’t considered that Fosco may be transferring his internal fears onto his victims. It leads me to wonder what Fosco’s other compulsions might suggest about Victorian concepts of villains in a broader sense. Since, if Fosco’s compulsion for control suggest past trauma and chaos, then perhaps the excess in his personality might strike something else in a Victorian audience. Overall, this seems like it could be a great jumping off point for a larger research project.

Leave a Reply