I read this short story at least 40 years ago, most probably in a collection. I read it in French, but I think the collection consisted of translations from various languages. That one might well have been from German, since I am sure it took place in Germany or in Austria. Of course, it might well have been written originally in any language, even including French.

It takes place at a time when formal dancing, balls, events like that, were very popular (among the upper classes, of course). A maker of automatons was extremely talented. The story begins with a list of some of his extraordinary creations. Having heard young ladies complaining that the men they danced with were never satisfying, he decided to create the perfect dancing automaton: never tired, never sweating, never stopping to drink... ).

He brings it to a ball, not pretending it was human, on the contrary explaining a young lady how to adjust the dancing speed, etc., etc. But too confident in the perfection of his creation, he leaves the mansion where the ball takes place and goes back home.

Alas, his automaton goes haywire, dances faster and faster and nobody can stop it. One looks for the maker everywhere in the mansion. By the time they understand he went home, run there, wake him up, bring him back, a lot of time has been lost. Meantimes, the poor lady has fainted in the arms of the automaton, and has been bruised when hurting the walls. IIRC, the maker is able to stop his creature, the damage is not too serious, the lady recovers.

But the maker decides never to create another humanoid automaton !


1 Answer 1


The Dancing-Partner by Jerome K. Jerome.

The inventor is Geibel. He overhears some young ladies complaining that:

“There seem to be fewer men who can dance at every ball you go to,” said one of the girls.

“Yes, and don’t the ones who can, give themselves airs,” said another; “they make quite a favour of asking you.”

“And how stupidly they talk,” added a third. “They always say exactly the same things: ‘How charming you are looking tonight.’ ‘Do you often go to Vienna? Oh, you should, it’s delightful.’ ‘What a charming dress you have on.’ ‘What a warm day it has been.’ ‘Do you like Wagner?’ I do wish they’d think of something new.”

“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.”

“A clockwork figure would be the thing for you,” said the girl who had interrupted.

“Bravo!” cried one of the others, clapping her hands, “what a capital idea!”

So Geibel builds the dancing robot and the story goes as you relate:

Madder and madder became the waltz. The music lagged behind: the musicians, unable to keep pace, ceased, and sat staring. The younger guests applauded, but the older faces began to grow anxious.

“Hadn’t you better stop, dear?” said one of the women. “You’ll make yourself so tired.”

But Annette did not answer. “I believe she’s fainted,” cried out a girl who had caught sight of her face as it was swept by.

One of the men sprang forward and clutched at the figure, but its impetus threw him down on to the floor, where its steel-cased feet laid bare his cheek. The thing evidently did not intend to part with its prize easily

It ends:

From that day old Nicholau Geibel confined himself to the making of mechanical rabbits, and cats that mewed and washed their faces.

  • We've done it again. Oh well, I guess it's my turn to step down Commented May 24 at 6:53
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    @ClaraDiazSanchez Thanks :-) It's uncanny how often this happens. We obviously both look at the SE first thing in the morning. Well, it's better than getting down to do some work! Commented May 24 at 6:56
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez (and also to John Rennie) LOL !
    – Alfred
    Commented May 24 at 7:07
  • @JohnRennie <makes mental note: get up one hour earlier> Commented May 24 at 8:48
  • I want this as old-school (80s or so) Japanese animation. No CGI. With a name like "Geibel" it's practically written for it. Commented May 25 at 9:50

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