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Written by Yang (Jenny) Bai
Symbol: Mr. Frederick Fairlie’s art collection
Mr. Frederick Fairlie is the owner of a vast art collection. He is surrounded by expensive art pieces and spares no money in acquiring one ones. However, the owner of this huge art collection is an invalid who cannot stand any mental exertion or external stimuli. He spends his days shut away in his private quarters and is incapable of any productive activity It is rather ironic that a person with rapidly declining physical health and mental faculty should display such zeal and vigor in acquiring ornamental objects. Frederick Fairlie’s art collection is a symbol of his self-absorbed character and his distorted values. He neglects the important things in life and focuses all of his energy upon these useless ornaments. Furthermore, he does not acquire art pieces out of a professional interest in art, but rather to use his collection as a means of flaunting his wealth and status. The acquisition of material things is the sole purpose of his life. Apart from this, he displays little interests in the events unfolding around him and takes little concern for the welfare of his nieces. The Fairlie household becomes almost dysfunctional under his guardianship. His art collection is a symbol of his selfishness, vanity and greed. His art collection fails to surround him with an artistic aura; it only emphasizes his self-absorbed and obnoxious character.
Symbol: Laura Fairlie’s white dress
Laura Fairlie is the lady dressed in white. She likes to dress in white and pale pastel colours. The whiteness of her dress symbolizes her purity, innocence, meekness and naivety. The white colour also symbolizes her lack of will-power, dynamism and vivacity. Unlike Marian Halcombe who possesses a colourful individuality which fascinates everyone around her; Laura possesses very little energy and spirit and has to be protected like a helpless infant. Like the whiteness of her dress, Laura is a colourless character with little vigour and passion. She is not strong enough to defend her interests and allows herself to be pushed about by people who do not take her interests to heart. Dresses are often highly significant symbols in literature and are usually the means to reflect the individuality of the wearers. By preferring white dresses, Laura has her personality written on her dress and renders an instant impression of her girlish innocence and unassuming meekness to the audience.
Symbol: The Blackwater Park
The setting of Blackwater Park is very significant. The house is an ancient mansion with five hundred years of history behind it. The house is surrounded by thick foliage which cast long shadows and block the view. The lake of Blackwater Park is shallow, still and devoid of life. The old mansion, the thick foliage, the long shadows and the still water produce a threatening atmosphere charged with a sense of deadened suffocation. The threatening atmosphere of Blackwater Park is symbolic to the plot. Not only does the place house two criminals, but it is also in this place that the most evil scheme will be plotted against Laura Fairlie. The suffocating foliage symbolizes the imprisonment that the sisters will endure at this place. The threatening appearance of Blackwater Park provides the perfect backdrop for conspiracy which will take place here.
Motif: Count Fosco’s mice
Count Fosco’s mice are frequently mentioned in the book. Count Fosco has a penchant for pets, especially mice. He treats his mice as his best friends and allows them to crawl over his body. Fosco’s fondness for mice serves to heighten his eccentricity. By repeatedly describing Fosco’s playing with his mice, Marian seeks to set him apart from no-nonsense Englishmen and to emphasize his foreignness. Fosco’s fondness for mice, his exuberant manners and his Napoleonic features turn him into an exotic spectacle. The frequent mentioning of his mice serves to remind the readers of his foreign origins and exotic manners. Fosco’s foreignness may both inspire mistrust and curiosity among the readers. It is important for the readers to focus their attention on Fosco, for he is the most fascinating male character of the novel, and will play a decisive role in shaping the development of the plot.
Count Fosco as an allegory
Count Fosco is an allegory of European culture. In Victorian Britain, people like to cherish the belief that the Europeans are culturally sophisticated but morally decadent. On the other hand, the Victorians believe that English people possess plainer taste, but are more virtuous and upright in their character. Count Fosco’s person is a living allegory of what the Victorians believed to be the European culture. Fosco is culturally sophisticated. He is well versed in arts and masters many languages. He is well travelled and boasts a broad experience in many matters and subjects. The Victorians believed that the Europeans to be more decadent in their lifestyle than the English. Fosco has extravagant taste. His fine taste in clothes is portrayed through his expensive and highly decorative waistcoats. Fosco also stands for the image of the scheming and morally corrupt European. He engages in the practices of spying, lying, conspiring and poisoning: all the behaviors despised by Victorian Englishmen. By inventing this sophisticated, exuberant and dangerous character, the author creates a convincing allegory of what the Victorians believed as the European culture. Fosco embodies all the classic Victorian stereotypes of the European man.
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