Oct 10th, 2012 by Annie
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is the fictional tale of Cora Carlisle and her time spent as chaperone to the legendary Louise Brooks.
As a young child raised in a Catholic orphanage in New York City, Cora was placed on one of the infamous adoption trains that departed New York City for the Midwest. Young Cora ended up in rural Kansas with the Kaufmann family who loved and nurtured her.
Cora eventually married and settled into her role in society as wife of a successful attorney. But as Cora neared middle age, an opportunity arose for her to escort the very young Louise Brooks to New York City to continue her dance training with the prestigious Denishawn Dance Company. Cora, eager to get to New York City to perhaps learn more about her origins, jumped at the opportunity.
Book Club Ideas
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.
100 Roaring Classics Of The 1920s 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.
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.
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.”
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 questions are from the publisher Penguin Group.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
|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
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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