A Vinegar Valentine, Blackheath Style
For Valentine’s, RFodchuk and I thought it would be fun to do a slightly different spin for the special day. Taking inspiration from the less-than-romantic Victorian “vinegar Valentine” we’ve chosen to celebrate that conniving courting couple Robert Dangerfield and Charlotte Collard of “The Blackheath Poisonings“.
No, they aren’t nearly as vindictive as the portrayals shown in genuine vinegar Valentines of the time, but certain aspects of their personality are certainly ripe for satire. On first glance it looks like a known cad and adventurer is wooing a soppy spinster (both prime subjects for vinegar Valentines) for her money. But is she as soppy as he thinks? In this post we look at three scenes from episode one chronicling their courtship.
Scene One: Dangerfield Reappears.
Robert Dangerfield, Charlotte’s former lover, had disappeared to India for several years, leaving her heartbroken. Suddenly he is back on the scene in England ready to pounce back into her life and rekindle…something.
Dangerfield: [grabbing Charlotte by her arm as she walks by a tree he was loitering under] Good evening, Miss Collard.
Charlotte: [shocked] Mr. Dangerfield. Robert.
Dangerfield: Calm yourself, Charlotte. I’m not a demon or even a ghost.
Admin: The way he suddenly springs on her very nearly scares her to death. That is most certainly not the best way to regain someone’s trust, but I think Robert has somehow decided shock and awe is the way to go. I like the way he immediately alludes to demons and ghosts. That is not terribly romantic, but it is very fitting.
RF: We also see Robert lurking outside the Vandervent-Collard house before waiting for Charlotte, so he’s evidently put at least some planning into it. And just springing out at her like that doesn’t give her much chance to react, so he seems to have been relying on an element of surprise, though she knows him well enough recognize him on sight. As for “I’m not a demon or even a ghost”, there’s already a hint that they might not have parted on the best of terms.
RF: I also think it’s worth noting that while we already know Charlotte comes from a well-to-do family (the Vandervent – Collard mansion is huge), you can see by Robert’s clothes that he’s down on his luck. His hat brim is worn, his jacket is a bit too small, his suit has seen better days, and he needs a haircut. What could it mean?? 😉
Admin: He does look decidedly worn. Lucky for him it is still a rather a fetching look nonetheless.
Charlotte: But I thought…everyone thought…I mean you disappeared so suddenly. And no word for months…for years.
Robert: Did you think I was dead? I was….without you. [Charlotte laughs derisively] Bring me back to life, Charlotte. I did not forget my promise. I’ve come back for you. [Kisses her hand]
Charlotte: No, Robert.
Admin: All the while, Charlotte is trying to get away from his grasp. Though, she does give a bit of a pause when he kisses her hand. She’s definitely a little unsure of how to proceed after the initial shock of seeing him again after so many years. Her little laugh when he says he was dead without her, however, gives us a pretty good hint that she’s not necessarily going to be fooled twice by his sweet talk.
RF: Robert cuts to the chase right away. He’s trying to get his best lines out before Charlotte comes to her senses. And while it’s true that she seems very skeptical of what he’s saying, she still doesn’t leave right away. I also noticed that while Robert is saying what you’d think any woman would want to hear, he doesn’t seem too terribly sincere about it, hand-kissing or no. There’s more than a slight whiff of desperation.
Robert: I have frightened you. I’m so sorry. I’ve been too…presumptuous. Do not bother with me, dear lady. I could never deserve your hand. [he leaves as Charlotte looks thoughtful]
Admin: His theatrical “I have frightened you” is so funny 🙂 His OTT wooing skills are too much. The thing is, though, Charlotte isn’t even frightened of him. She’s definitely shocked. I mean who wouldn’t be? But, she does an incredibly good job of holding it together. There is nothing remotely hysterical about her whatsoever. What is really interesting, however, is her expression when he leaves. She doesn’t run or call for him. She simply looks thoughtful…albeit still stunned.
RF: Yeah, the “I have frightened you” bit is pretty hilarious. 😀 And then just to set the hook, he does the “c’mere c’mere, go ‘way go ‘way” bit, negging himself in a transparent ploy to keep Charlotte’s interest and gain her sympathy. She does look rather stunned after he leaves, but who can blame her? She’s probably thinking, “What just happened here??” 😀
Admin: Yeah, for the opening it certainly seems like he’s caught her attention and not in a bad way.
Scene Two: Charlotte’s Motivations Become Clear.
In the next scene, Charlotte has a meeting with Robert, but has brought her cousin Bertie along for backup. Charlotte believes she can achieve independence and a share in the family toy firm via marriage. But Bertie is very doubtful that Dangerfield is the man for the task. “Gentlemen returned from India are frequently rotten with whiskey…or worse!” I like Bertie. 🙂
RF: Bertie does some preaching about fallen women in his spare time, so he’s probably well-acquainted with the men who helped them get that way. Hmmm.
Charlotte: [approaches Robert who is holding a posy] Mr. Dangerfield, I must know what your intentions are.
Dangerfield: Charlotte, I have known many women, but none with whom I’ve longed….longed with such devotion to be united in the sacrament of marriage. We have a great future, Charlotte. But first we must win it, and to do that we must be very close allies. [hands her the posy which she takes and smells]
Admin: That sounds like a well-rehearsed speech. I have to say, he doesn’t seem terribly sincere with the “longed with such devotion” line. He even gives a few nervous gulps as he plows through it all. Charlotte listens with great interest though. He is saying the right things by talking about having a great future which is exactly what the ambitious Charlotte wants to hear. His confidence seems to shoot up considerably when he tells her they must be “very close allies.” For some reason, that strikes me as in being in keeping with the nature of one of life’s more natural cheats.
RF: Charlotte doesn’t take the posy at first, which also seems to suggest her skepticism. I’m also pretty sure that Robert nicked that posy by picking some of the flowers growing in the park. 😉 You’re right that his speech does seem very rehearsed; I wonder how many ladies he’s given it to before? He cuts straight to the chase again by mentioning “the sacrament of marriage”, which we know he ran away from before, wounding Charlotte badly. But older Charlotte has motivations of her own, which she’s not telling him about. Also, his comment about “win[ning] it [the future]” and “being close allies” is far from the usual wooing talk we’ve already heard from Robert. It’s actually more honest than he’s been before. If he’d started out that way, he might’ve had an easier time.
Admin: Indeed. The honesty is very refreshing right to her now and fits well with what she was saying to Cousin Bertie.
Scene Three: They Are Now a Team.
Roger Vandervent who essentially headed the family firm has died. That leaves a nice big hole to be filled.
[Charlotte is in her mourning gear. Robert bounds up to her, kissing her hand enthusiastically.]
Dangerfield: Well, despite the present sadness…
Charlotte: I shall not pine for Roger.
Dangerfield: Good, brave Charlotte, as you’ll need to be. We can’t afford any further delay in approaching your Mama.
Admin: I love the “good, brave Charlotte” line. Charlotte is being blunt not brave. Vandervent’s shuffling off the mortal coil can only work in her better interest. Still, I love the way the Victorian courtesies have to be played out as a rushed formality with no sincerity whatsoever.
RF: I love the way he comes bounding up. 😀 Robert isn’t sad at all about Roger dying, since it’s one less obstacle to him getting his foot – and the rest of him – in the door, and getting his hands on Charlotte’s money. He’s in a hurry, too, since he’s already being accosted by debt collectors on the street. And yeah, Charlotte makes no secret of the fact she won’t miss Roger at all, but Robert doesn’t seem to notice. His attempt at consolation is entirely perfunctory.
Charlotte: I do not which to obtrude upon her grief.
Dangerfield: I fancy she’ll be bearing up quite well.
Admin: Robert says that line rather slyly, almost as though he’s dropping a hint for Charlotte. He must know that Mrs. Collard is a very matter-of-fact woman who doesn’t have much time for sentimentality.
RF: Mrs. Collard probably couldn’t stand Robert the first time around. 😉 She won’t be very happy to see that he’s turned up again, like the proverbial bad penny.
Charlotte: And yet if I think carefully…this may be our best chance.
Dangerfield: Yes! Here is opportunity, and we must catch it on the wing.
Admin: If he was dropping a hint, it worked. Perhaps the Vandervent shaped hole in the family dynamic will give her a chance to improve her status while bringing in Robert right away. Now it is her turn to be sly. Robert for his part seems more like a motivational speaker. I like his allusion to catching a bird. Wouldn’t it be awful if the only bird being captured is himself. 😉
RF: Charlotte sounds very calculating here, but again, Robert seems to miss it. I think he’s still under the impression she hasn’t changed that much from the Charlotte he jilted years ago, and that she’ll be just as easily fooled this time. Robert is mostly pleased at the thought of getting his hands on Charlotte’s money, which accounts for his enthusiasm. I do have to wonder how he expects to pull that off without actually marrying her, since I don’t believe for a second he intends to follow through.
Admin: Yes, it is as if he’s plowing along with a scripted plan, but isn’t grasping the ways in which she has clearly changed. He is consistently missing or ignoring just how cool and collected she is. Be careful, Robert. 😉
Admin: I love all three of these scenes. They are one of the least romantic courting couples ever, but they are certainly very entertaining. Charlotte is not the sad easily swayed spinster Robert seems to think she is. But, with the lovely new vacancy in the family firm, it certainly does look like they will make a formidable team together. So, while their courtship has a rather a sharp tang to it, I can’t help but like them.
RF: No, they’re not very romantic at all, but they are committed to pursuing their own agendas. In Robert’s case, it appears to mean the difference between life and a particularly unpleasant death, while Charlotte sees marriage as a way of getting away from her controlling mother – unbeknownst to Robert. But as you say, Charlotte isn’t at all the naive young woman Robert knew before. She’s had a lot of time to think about him and his methods and plan accordingly. Once they do decide that their agendas actually have something in common, you’re right that they become a formidable team. In fact, Charlotte might be a little too formidable for Robert. It’s a lot of fun to watch their dynamic playing out.