The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

"The Dancing Partner" (1893)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

“The Dancing Partner” was written by Jerome K. Jerome and first appeared in The Idler (March 1893). Jerome (1859-1927) was a British humorist and magazine editor. “The Dancing Partner” is a savage short story--one can imagine Jerome smiling ferally as he wrote it.

In Furtwangen, a small town in the Black Forest of Germany, there lives Nicholaus Geibel, a brilliant inventor. His specialty is mechanical toys–rabbits that flop their ears, smooth their whiskers, and so on–but Geibel is such a genius that he can make much larger creations than mere toys, such as “a gentleman with a hollow inside who could smoke a pipe and drink more lager beer than any three average German students put together, which is saying much.”1 One day he overhears his daughter Olga and her friends chatting about the shortcomings of men, which include not being able to dance well, talking stupidly while they dance, and generally giving themselves airs. One of the girls suggests a clockwork dancer, one who would never run down, never tread on a woman’s toes, never get out of step, never mop its face with a handkerchief–all the things the girls find tiresome about men. Geibel, fascinated, listens closely, and then grills his daughter on dancing men. He spends a few weeks in his factory, and at a large ball given by a timber merchant to celebrate his niece’s betrothal Geibel debuts Lieutenant Fritz, a clockwork man. Geibel has only taught him how to waltz, but at that he is flawless, and he never tires. Too, he has a series of recorded responses which he utters. Geibel offers Fritz’s dancing services to Annette, the girl who suggested his creation, and Annette and Fritz begin to dance. They dance divinely, for a while, and Geibel leaves to enjoy a pipe and a glass of hock.

Then Annette loosens the screw regulating Fritz’s rate of progress, and the two dance faster and faster. They outpace the other couples, and even the band, and then someone notices that Annette has fainted. No one is able to free her, and when two men rush at Fritz they only manage to knock him out of his orbit and against the wall, which results in Annette’s head being wounded, and she bleeds on her dress and on the floor. The women run screaming from the room, and the men follow them. Someone thinks to fetch Geibel, but meanwhile all they can do is wait and listen to the noises coming from inside the ballroom, the “steady whir of the wheels upon the polished floor as the thing spun round and round; the dull thud as every now and again it dashed itself and its burden against some opposing object,”2 and the “thing’s ghostly voice, repeating over and over the same formula: ‘How charming you are looking to night. What a lovely day it has been. Oh, don’t be so cruel. I could go on dancing for ever–with you. Have you had supper?’”3 Eventually Geibel and Wenzel, the timber magnate, arrive and enter the ball room, closing the door behind them. “From within there came the muffled sound of low voices and quick steps, followed by a confused scuffling noise, then silence, then the low voices again.”4 Wenzel and Geibel emerge, white faced, and they choose two men to help them and send the women away. “From that day old Nicholaus Geibel confined himself to the making of mechanical rabbits, and cats that mewed and washed their faces.”5 

Jerome’s usual storytelling style was comedic, but he plays “The Dancing Partner” straight, keeping his fangs sheathed until the story’s horrific ending. The matter-of-fact manner in which he tells the story only adds to the savagery of the ending. The story could even be called misogynist, as the girls are shrewish in their complaints about men, and the punishment dealt to Annette is vicious. The lagniappe which makes “The Dancing Partner” particularly unpleasant, in a good, horror story way, is the ambiguity of what Geibel and Wenzel find, and why both were so white-faced, and why it was so important to “get the women away as quickly as you can.”6 

Recommended Edition

Print: Hugh Lamb, ed., Three Men in the Dark: Tales of Terror by Jerome K. Jerome, Barry Pain & Robert Barr. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.



1 Jerome K. Jerome, “The Dancing Partner,” WikiSource, accessed Feb. 11, 2019,

2 Jerome, “The Dancing Partner.”

3 Jerome, “The Dancing Partner.”

4 Jerome, “The Dancing Partner.”

5 Jerome, “The Dancing Partner.”

6 Jerome, “The Dancing Partner.”