Friday, October 14, 2011

Shocking, Isn't It?

I am not a party game kind of gal. It never even dawns on me to break out the cards when friends come over for dinner. But in the nineteenth century, as we’ve discussed, young ladies and gentlemen delighted in finding new games to play, whether with card games, guessing games like twenty-questions, or acting games like charades. Something we often take for granted today, however, was first popularized as a parlor game.


The science of electricity had been growing steadily since the 1600s, and the 1700s has seen advances in understanding how nerves use electricity to transmit instructions to the muscles and the first true battery to store electrical energy. But as the 1800s began, many people were still puzzled by the possible uses of electricity outside either a scientific experiment or something to do to amaze and entertain your friends.

The 1807 Practical Electricity and Galvanism by Jonathan Cuthbert, for example, laid out a series of experiments for understanding the science as well as having some fun. Some experiments were educational, such as creating a prime conductor out of household materials. Others were amusing, such as setting up a current to ring a set of bells. One I found, in an innocent-sounding book from 1831, Endless Amusement, was downright disturbing, explaining how to kill an animal for “fun” by electrocuting it. [Insert shudder.]

But one of the experiments, found in books about amusements dating from 1807 to 1889, was designed to be titilating. It was called the “electrical kiss.” In that game, a lady used an electrical conductor to give herself a charge (perhaps by using a static generator like the one here), then challenged a gentleman that he could not kiss her. The gentleman would approach and incline his head, the lady would be careful not to let their clothes touch, and a spark would fly from her lips to his, forcing him back before he could actually kiss her. (And the very concept sparked a few ideas for scenes between characters, let me tell you!)

Shocking, eh?


QNPoohBear said...

I actually read an account in a diary about going to an electric party. I gathered that the guests received shocks, like a static electricity shock, for fun. I'll see if I can find my notes. It seems kind of weird but I remember being a kid and rubbing a balloon on my head and making my hair stand up or shocking my siblings with static electricity.

Faith E. Hough said...

That is great. :) And I now have a new answer for the quintessential mom's question: what do you think people did all day before tv was invented? Well, mom... :)
(Granted, my mother was the one telling me it was not a good idea to read by candlelight...)

Regina Scott said...

QNPoohBear, I'd love to hear more if you find your notes! And Faith--too funny!

QNPoohBear said...

I couldn't find the notes from the diary I thought it was from. I'll check at the library and see if I actually transcribed it. I'll get back to you if I find something interesting.