My fictional character, Annie, was taught the art by her grandmother, who fancied herself professor emeritus in the psychology of gossiping. Her duty as the matriarch of the family was the instill into her daughter and granddaughter the art of the gossip, the psychology behind it, and the importance of learning all the latest tidbits without ever opening their mouths.
Interested? Well, let's hope so, because I'm about the share with you Gossiping 101: The Art of the Gossip in Victorian America.
First, never, ever, ever, coax gossip out of anyone. If gossip begins to flow it is unladylike to ask leading questions and appear to be a gossip yourself. A true gossiper will tell the whole story simply because of the rush it gives them. Secondly, never let body language give the idea that any tale at another person's expense is being relished. Quite the contrary. As much fun as it is to gossip, there is something primal about it, makes us feel better about ourselves. Simply sit, sip your tea, eat your cookies and listen. Always have something in your hands because hands, Annie, are the key to a good tell. Women tend to use their hands when they become enthused or overly interested, encouraging the teller to go on and on. And our goal, the goal of a true lady, is to appear nonchalant and just a tad disinterested. The story will continue, but since you don't speak or give of the feeling of approval, the only thing said about you will be that you're a bore at tea. And that's not so bad. Better than being the focal point of a sermon on the evils of gossip at the next Sunday service. Finally, and most importantly, the eyes have it. Keep a blank look going, not one that says there's nothing behind the eyes, but one says, 'Gossip. I can take it or leave it.' Our eyes, dear one, can give away our every emotion. Especially excitement or sadness. Expressionless gazes can keep the gossiper gossiping, but keep them from asking you to participate.”
And there you have it: Gossiping 101 as told to Annie, by her Grandmother, Prudence Wickham, on the eve of her first formal tea. After all, grandmothers in Victorian America always imparted life's most important lessons to their granddaughters. Appearance was everything second only to not being called out for bad behavior by their parson.