(Thanks must go to my most excellent correspondent Nancy Beiman for steering me to this submerged wreck).
With this handy little book, Mrs Wolcott supplies us with a most useful source of advice for that unhappy situation when, on meeting some unfamiliar person at a social gathering, one is unsure “What to Talk About”. Her solution is “The Clever Question”, examples of which are furnished here in abundance.
Based on the sound principle that everyone most likes to talk about his or her own specialities and interests, the book is filled with clever questions for every profession, hobby or favourite place. Its utility is easily demonstrated, as you will see from this entirely true dramatised incident taken from my own experience:
[Mrs Littlemouse, a shy, nervous woman of some 30 years, is engaged in conversation with her husband's employer, the noted Christian missionary, physician, author and keen amateur gardener, Professor Patterson Greatmouth. In preparation for this encounter she has wisely memorised several relevant sections of What to Talk About]
Mrs L: Professor, would you advise divorce in a case where love and fidelity had both ceased?
Prof. G: [horrified] My dear woman! I really had no idea! - tell me, is he violent? Does he drink?
Mrs L: What are some of the characteristics of the Hottentot?
Prof. G: Surely your husband is not a Hottentot! - the Hottentot is an African nomad. Does he claim to be a Hottentot?
Mrs L: To what extent should the state license all cults or substitutes for orthodox medicine and what restraints, if any, should be put on them?
Prof. G: Ah... These so-called Hottentots must be some kind of bestial cult. And I've no doubt they force your husband by means of satanic programming to perform the most hideous devilish acts of lust upon your poor pale trembling flesh! How utterly rough!
Mrs L: What have you written?
Prof. G: Written? Did you see me writing something? [solicitously] Do you often think that people are writing things about you? Perhaps they write that you are a delightful, fragrant young woman? and your - your - husband is a beastly wretch who should be horsewhipped!
Mrs L: Do you think too many young people are going to college?
Prof. G: College, eh? I suppose that was where he was recruited into this vicious Hottentot cult. Our colleges are sadly infected with so many of these heretical gangs, spouting blasphemies and corrupting feeble young chaps with their opiates and black masses, drinking the blood of virgins and sacrificing goats. [angrily] I have nursed a viper in my bosom! I must expel it!
Mrs L: Are there any weed killers on the market which are practical?
Prof. G: Oh! Oh, my poor dear woman! Let me deliver you from this unspeakable horror! [grabs for her]
[Exit Mrs L, screaming, with Prof G in pursuit]