Tuesday Terror! The Dancing Partner by Jerome K Jerome

The last waltz…

 

Best known for being the author of the funniest book ever written, Three Men in a Boat, you’d assume that any horror story Jerome K Jerome produced would be beautifully light and humorous, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be right…and you’d also be wrong…

Take your partners please, as the band strikes up for this week’s…

 

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Dancing Partner by Jerome K Jerome

 

Jerome K Jerome
Jerome K Jerome

 

This story is taken from Jerome’s book, Novel Notes.

In a small town in the Black Forest, there lived a man called Nicholaus Geibel – an inventor of mechanical toys. In his shop, he had cats that washed their faces, dolls that spoke, rabbits that smoothed their whiskers. But as well as these small toys, he loved to make strange things that would never sell – he made them just for the sheer pleasure of it and many of them showed his rather wicked sense of humour…

…a skeleton that, supported by an upright iron bar, would dance a hornpipe; a life-size lady doll that could play the fiddle; and a gentleman with a hollow inside who could smoke a pipe and drink more lager beer than any three average German students out together, which is saying much.

One day, Geibel heard his daughter, Olga, and her friends bemoaning the quantity and quality of dancing partners at a recent ball, and describing the partner they wished they could find…

“Oh, I never mind how they talk,” said a fourth. “If a man dances well he may be a fool for all I care.”
“He generally is,” slipped in a thin girl, rather spitefully.
“I go to a ball to dance,” continued the previous speaker, not noticing the interruption. “All I ask of a partner is that he shall hold me firmly, take me round steadily, and not get tired before I do.”

Oh, really - whose picture were you expecting?
Oh, really! Whose picture were you expecting?

And so Geibel decided that he would surprise the town at the next ball. He spent some weeks tinkering in his workshop, every now and again chuckling to himself at what a sensation his new invention would be. And sure enough, when the guests were all gathered at the start of the next ball, Geibel and his new ‘friend’ entered to much applause and laughter…

Geibel placed his hand encouragingly on Fritz’s shoulder, and the lieutenant bowed low, accompanying the action with a harsh clicking noise in his throat, unpleasantly suggestive of a death rattle.

After some hesitation, Olga’s friend, Annette, agreed to be Fritz’s first partner, and at first everything went perfectly…

Keeping perfect time and step, and holding its little partner tightly clasped in an unyielding embrace, it revolved steadily, pouring forth at the same time a constant flow of squeaky conversation, broken by brief intervals of grinding silence.

(D’you know, I’m sure I’ve danced with him myself!)

Since everything was going so splendidly, Geibel went off with a friend to have a drink and a smoke, leaving the young people to it. The dance whirled on, and Annette turned the knob that controlled the automaton’s speed…

…and the figure flew round with her swifter and swifter. Couple after couple dropped out exhausted, but they only went the faster, till at length they were the only pair left dancing.

Becoming concerned, the older women urged Annette to stop, but she didn’t reply…and they saw that she had fainted. Some of the men intervened to try to stop the automaton…

Two of them made a bungling rush at the figure, which had the result of forcing it out of its orbit in the centre of the room, and sending it crashing against the walls and the furniture. A stream of blood showed itself down the girl’s white frock, and followed her along the floor…

 

the dancing partner

* * * * * * *

Well! From that point the story continues on its gory way to its gruesome end. If you want to read it, click here.

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve read in a while. Right up to the last couple of pages, it’s a lovely confection making light fun of both the young men and young women who frequent the town’s dances. But then it suddenly turns into something not far off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre! It’s quite well written and very readable, but I fear I kept waiting for a punchline that didn’t come. I don’t know what to make of it really. I suppose the moral of the story is you should never waltz with an automaton on the first date…

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         🙂 🙂 🙂

 

 

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

three men in a boatHappy birthday, JKJ!

😆 😆 😆 😆 😆

I was going to continue with the Sherlock Holmes theme today but a tweet from one of my favourite blogs Interesting Literature has just alerted me to the fact that today is Jerome K Jerome’s birthday; so this seems like a good moment to review the funniest book ever written…

To journey up the River Thames in the company of J, George, Harris and, of course, Montmorency the fox-terrier is as good as having a holiday yourself.

Uncle Podger...
Uncle Podger…

From J. showing the others how to pack a trunk, through Uncle Podger and the picture-hanging episode, stopping off for a warm whisky and water in a little pub Harris just happens to know, then past George and the terrifying pineapple can, averting our eyes from Montmorency’s embarrassment over the incident with the kettle, and on to the fishermen’s tales, every step on the journey is more joyous than the last. And I haven’t even mentioned the musical interludes – Montmorency’s accompaniment to George’s banjo playing, the sad tale of the bagpipe student, the affair of the German comic song…

Montmorency and the kettle
Montmorency and the kettle…

But, while I do think it’s the funniest book ever written, there’s more to it than that. Written as a travelogue, Jerome tells us lots of interesting historical snippets about the little towns and hamlets along the Thames. And since the book was published in 1889 we get a second historical view of Jerome’s own time – a view for once not of the upper-classes or of the poor, but of the ordinary working people in the middle and how they enjoyed their leisure time. One of the things that always surprises me about the book is that the interactions between the three men is so little different to what it would be today, giving the stories a timeless quality.
.

Jerome K Jerome
Jerome K Jerome

As well as the humour, Jerome gives poetic descriptions of nature in all its glory and sometimes drifts off into historical imaginings. I know some people find these passages overly sentimental but I love them. They seem quintessentially Victorian to me and they are beautifully written, even when at their most over-blown. The book inspired me to travel up the Thames myself (in a car!) and visit some of the little places that still retain their individuality today despite many of them having been absorbed into the London sprawl.

If you’ve never read this book, give it a try. If you’ve read it before, treat yourself and read it again. And if you think you know of a funnier book, leave a comment – I always welcome tips!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link