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The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty



The Chaperone by Louise Moriarity

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is the fictional tale of Cora Carlisle and her time spent as chaperone to the legendary Louise Brooks.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.

Read more . . .


For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.

Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)


Book Club Ideas

Decorations

Decorations for this book club party can include Louise Brooks posters and, if you have one on hand, a train set like this Pennsylvania Railroad American credited with connecting the Eastern and Western United States.

This flapper wig would be great fun to wear for The Chaperone book club party. Be sure to include a long string of faux pearls (see photo above right) to complete your look à la Louise Brooks.

Music

Ultimate Great Gatsby 1920s Party! – The Very Best Roaring 20s Swing Party Hits Album! is a great mp3 album download for The Chaperone book club party to celebrate Louise Brooks’ Hollywood heyday.


Book Club Menu

Cora and Louise traveled from Kansas to New York City by train. It was on this train trip that Louise’s shenanigans began with a chicken dinner and two Wichita firemen. Cora began to suspect her job as chaperone might be a bit more challenging than initially anticipated.

Your book club guests will love the impressive Chicken Périgourdine.

Chicken Périgourdine

Chicken Périgourdine

Prepare perfect ice cold lemonade, “not too sweet”, like the lemonade Cora enjoyed on the train.

This delicious Hard Lemonade is perfect for any gathering.

Hard Lemonade

Hard lemonade

Louise had made a batch of homemade uneven little squares of hard candy, with a toothpick stuck in each square. Cora was surprised that Louise had any interest in baking, then reconsidered. “But of course, she would have needed to learn to make her own treats, having distracted, unhappy Myra for a mother.”

Put out a bowl of hard candy, like my personal favorite Jolly Rancher Hard Candy, or make your own hard candy with this recipe from Taste of Home and don’t forget the toothpicks.

Jolly Ranchers


Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.89 stars (5100 ratings)
Amazon: 4.3 stars (166 ratings)
LibraryThing: 4.13 stars (119 ratings)
My Rating: 3.75 stars. The Chaperone had a strong 4.5-5 stars going until, sadly, the final sections. I was completely absorbed in the first three-quarters of this novel which covers Cora’s early years as an orphan, and middle-aged Cora and fascinating Louise Brooks in the 1920s. But, as the story moved away from Louise Brooks, I found the liberated Cora becoming more and more of a caricature. I found myself rolling my eyes several times as the concluding novel hurtled through time with Cora crusading against one social ill after another. However, I still recommend reading The Chaperone for its portrayal of the New York orphans sent to the Mid-West on orphan trains and of Louise Brooks.

Discussion

Discussion questions are from the publisher.

  1. The Chaperone opens with Cora Carlisle waiting out a rainstorm in a car with a friend when she hears about Louise Brooks for the first time. What do we learn about Cora in this scene? What does it tell us about her and the world she lives in? Why does Laura Moriarty, the author, choose to open the novel this way? Why do you think she waits to introduce us to Brooks?
  2. When we first meet Louise Brooks, she seems to be the complete opposite of Cora, but the two women form an unlikely bond anyway. Are they really so dissimilar? What does Cora learn from Louise? Do you think Louise learns anything from Cora?
  3. When Cora arrives in New York, the city is worlds away from her life in Wichita. How much do you think Cora actually embraces New York? When she returns to Wichita, what does she bring back with her from New York? What parts of her stayed true to Wichita all along?
  4. The limits of acceptable behavior for women were rapidly changing in the 1920s, and both Cora Carlisle and Louise Brooks, in their own ways, push against these boundaries. Discuss the different ways the two women try to change society’s expectations for women. Is one more successful than the other? What are the values involved in each woman’s approach?
  5. Cora becomes frustrated with the hypocrisy of the women in her Wichita circle of friends and yet she herself chooses to keep details about her own life secret. Do you think she should be more open about her life choices? What are the risks for her if she were to be more open?
  6. Cora Carlisle hopes to find the secret of her past in New York City but discovers that the truth doesn’t align with either her expectations or her memory of the past. Why do you think Laura Moriarty has chosen to leave Cora’s history ambiguous? What does this tell you about Cora? How has Cora’s attitude toward her past changed by the end of The Chaperone?
  7. Cora narrates the events of the book from a perspective of many years later. What juxtapositions does this allow her? By placing Cora’s narration at a time of radical social change, what parallels is Moriarty making?
  8. Think about Louise Brooks’ behavior. How much of it would be considered scandalous today? What values has society held on to? In what ways has society changed?

 

Purchase The Chaperone at your favorite bookseller

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The Author

Laura Moriarty Laura Moriarty was born in 1970 in Honolulu. She earned a degree in social work and her MA at The University of Kansas. She is a recipient of the George Bennett Fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.Ms. Moriarty has four published works at this date and is currently a professor of creative writing at The University of Kansas. She resides in Lawrence, Kansas with her daughter.

Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading

While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty LuLu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks Louise Brooks by Barry Paris

There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks! —Henri Langlois, 1955

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for The Chaperone? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.



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