The Woman in White | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Woman in White | Part 3, Chapter 3 : The Third Epoch (The Story Continued by Isidor, Ottavio, Baldassare Fosco: The Count's Narrative) | Summary

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Summary

This entire section is dedicated to the confession written by Count Fosco at the command of Hartright. In it, Fosco describes his friendship with Percival, which is based almost entirely on their shared need for cash. Says Fosco, "We both wanted money. Immense necessity! Universal want! Is there a civilized human being who does not feel for us?" He also describes his attraction to Halcombe, which is, apparently, quite passionate. He writes, "Pass me the intoxicating familiarity of mentioning this sublime creature by her Christian name."

Fosco explains that his entire plan was born from the realization that Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie looked almost identical. He boasts about the minimal fuss involved in safeguarding Sir Percival's secret and gaining access to the 30 thousand pounds. Just as Hartright has surmised, he was able to switch Laura for Anne and vice versa. This resulted in precisely the outcome he had hoped for. Anne's death is described as a mild inconvenience. Laura's incarceration in an insane asylum is barely mentioned.

Toward the end of his confession, Fosco describes the errors he made along the way. First, he did not act when he discovered that Halcombe had released Laura from the asylum. Second, he allowed Hartright to escape his henchmen after Percival's death. Another error was the unfortunate death of Anne Catherick one day before Laura left Blackwater for London. Fosco notes that his inaction in the first two cases was a result of his regard for Halcombe. Anne's untimely death could not have been avoided.

Fosco ends his confession with a paragraph filled with self-congratulation and denial of any serious wrongdoing. He asks the reader, "Is my conduct worthy of any serious blame? Most emphatically, No!" He continues, "Judge me by what I might have done. How comparatively innocent! How indirectly virtuous I appear in what I really did!"

Analysis

In his confession, Fosco provides his full name: Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco. He also calls himself Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Brazen Crown and Perpetual Arch-Master of the Rosicrucian Masons of Mesopotamia. Of these, one is a real organization: the Rosicrucian Masons, which derived from the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. Rosicrucians are an international society dedicated to studying ancient mysteries.

The Masons, or Freemasons, are also an international society with ancient rites. A sect of the Freemasons called the Rosicrucian Masons emerged at the time Fosco would have lived, and the group did exist in Italy. Mesopotamia, however, is quite a distance from Italy—and there is no suggestion that Fosco might have lived there. The Rosicrucian Masons still exist in England; they are said to study the "hidden mysteries of nature, science, and truth."

The content of Fosco's letter validates all that Hartright and Halcombe have discovered. It also confirms that Fosco was a spy, "charged with a delicate political mission from abroad." Further, it includes a mention that Fosco had studied chemistry and was able to manufacture drugs.

Moreover the letter provides the reader with a new perspective on Count Fosco. Not only does he believe himself to be a magnanimous, if platonic, lover, he also sees himself as achieving his goals as blamelessly as possible. About his contingency plan for murdering Anne, he brags, "I should have ... extended to the captive (incurably afflicted in mind and body both) a happy release."

The reader, like Hartright, has no difficulty in seeing through Fosco's bluster. The Count describes his confession as a "remarkable narrative." Hartright more accurately calls it the "terrible story of the conspiracy told by the man who had planned and perpetrated it."

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