“For was it, for instance, a thing likely to occur to any one as suspicious that, according to the declaration of an elegant beau of these tea-parties, Olimpia had, contrary to all good manners, sneezed oftener than she had yawned? The former must have been, in the opinion of this elegant gentleman, the winding up of the concealed clock-work; it had always been accompanied by an observable creaking, and so on. […] Several lovers, in order to be fully convinced that they were not paying court to a wooden puppet, required that their mistress should sing and dance a little out of time, should embroider or knit or play with her little pug, &c., when being read to, but above all things else that she should do something more than merely listen — that she should frequently speak in such a way as to really show that her words presupposed as a condition some thinking and feeling. The bonds of love were in many cases drawn closer in consequence, and so of course became more engaging; in other instances they gradually relaxed and fell away. “I cannot really be made responsible for it,” was the remark of more than one young gallant. At the tea-gatherings everybody, in order to ward off suspicion, yawned to an incredible extent and never sneezed. Spalanzani was obliged, as has been said, to leave the place in order to escape a criminal charge of having fraudulently imposed an automaton upon human society.”
This Figure For Ballroom Dancing Practice was patented in 1921 by one Sidney E. Feist, “of Brooklyn, New York.” The drawings are lovely, despite the inherent uncanniness with which most people in the 21st century automatically contextualise the idea of dancing with some kind of flapper-Dalek automaton who rolls towards you on what Mr. Feist worryingly (and Lovecraftianly) describes as a “tubular member.” She also has a kickstand under her dress.I wasn’t able to find out anything else about Mr. Feist, except that the 1940 census seems to show that he was born circa 1888, he lived on Avenue U in Brooklyn with his wife, a grown up daughter and two much younger sons, and he had at least one other bright idea, patented in 1936: Combined Valise and Steps for Theatrical Dance Entertainers. Perhaps he was in show business in some way, or a dance teacher?
Me being me, of course, the moment I saw this I thought of Hoffmann’s odd (and influential on Dr.Unheimlich himself, Sigmund Freud) story about what we would now call childhood trauma, and how it leads to a young man’s infatuation with a society belle who turns out to be an automaton. I hate it when that happens, don’t you? The short story collection in which the story originally appeared was called Die Nachtstücke (The Night-Pieces). With a nod to Blade Runner‘s “skin jobs”, I can imagine ballroom dancing “night pieces” on wheels as their 1920s precursors.