I’ve just found this fascinating article about how electricity became featured in entertainment shows shortly after it was harnessed and took on an erotic undercurrent, leading to theories of sexuality that attempted to explain the differences between male and female ‘electric fire’.
The abstract alone is wonderful to read:
Sparks in the dark: the attraction of electricity in the eighteenth century.
Electricity was the craze of the eighteenth century. Thrilling experiments became forms of polite entertainment for ladies and gentlemen who enjoyed feeling sparks, shocks and attractions on their bodies. Popular lecturers designed demonstrations that were performed in darkened salons to increase the spectacle of the so-called electric fire. Not only did the action, the machinery and the ambience of such displays match the culture of the libertine century, it also provided new material for erotic literature.
This is one of the many curious paragraphs from the actual article:
Women became essential protagonists of electrical soir√©es. Electrical performances staged in courts and salons counted on their active participation and played with sexual difference. Although both men and women could experience the electric fire with their bodies, they would tackle it in different ways. The most common electrical experiments provide a glimpse into the different roles salon culture codified for ladies and gentlemen. One of the most popular demonstrations of the time was the electrifying Venus, or electric kiss. Invented by the German professor Georg Matthias Bose, it was soon replicated throughout Europe. The experiment was simple to organize. The selected lady would stand on an insulated stool while an operator charged her body with an electrical machine. Gentlemen in the audience would then be invited to kiss her, but alas, as they tried to approach her lips a strong spark would discourage any attempt, while exhilarating the lady and the rest of the audience.