The Chaperone

“She knew who she was.” ~ Laura Moriarty

louise_brooks_smile

Louise Brooks

I imagine it comes as no surprise to you that I favor historical fiction. Laura Moriarty’s descriptive words were a time machine that transported me to the roaring twenties, the world my grandparents lived in—that of corsets, prohibition, crank-start cars and speak easys. Although the cover features a portrait of silent film star actress Louise Brooks, the book’s focus is on the fictional protagonist, Cora Carlisle. When I began reading The Chaperone I was under the impression the book was going to be about the summer Cora, a proper 36 year old woman from Wichita, Kansas chaperones 15 year old Louise Brooks to New york City where she attends the prestigious Denishawn Dance School. The story turned out to be a chronicle of Cora’s life. There were numerous conflicts, some of which remained unresolved; I preferred this because it is more true to life. It was an easy, fast-paced, well written and compelling read. The characters were  believable and upon finishing the book I cried because I will miss them. [Does anyone else do that?] I did object to some things the author mentioned as if it were present day—condoms, divorce, shared ‘secrets’—yes, those things existed however no one ever talked about them. If you haven’t read The Chaperone, you must!

I am including discussion questions from Penguin.com because I created the Fairfield House Book Club to be an interactive exchange, please feel free to share your thoughts. THIS IS NOT A TEST!  I will be posting my responses as well. Also, please let me know if you would be interested in attending next month’s book club session if it were a real-time online exchange of thoughts.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Think about Louise Brooks’s behavior. How much of it would be considered scandalous today? What values has society held on to? In what ways has society changed?

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10 Responses to The Chaperone

  1. Laura Ingalls Gunn July 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    I have put it on my “must read” list.

    Both Jan Karon and L.M.Montgomery made me sob uncontrollably on the loss of character both within the story and upon completion.

  2. Adrian August 1, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Good morning Deborah ~
    With 3 kids at home, I have not had one moment to myself to read anything longer than a yogurt label this Summer. However, your description of this book has intrigued me. With Summer winding down, I think I have found my next great escape come September.
    Many thanks, your friend,
    Dee xo

  3. Deborah August 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    My thoughts on discussion question #1 (above) :

    Although Cora and Louise appear to be polar opposites, they share a common bond. Each grew up abandoned by their mother. Cora learns that even if she were raised by her {biological} mother it would not guarantee her life would be better than it turned out. People can be in your life and not be a part of it. Louise learns to be her own mother; to look out for her own best interests.

    What do you think?

  4. Jennifer August 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I loved this book too; for the sake of saving time {it’s almost lunch!}, instead of answering the questions above…one paragraph stood out to me right from the beginning and will probably stay with me forever (when Cora and the grandniece are discussing the KKK, amongst other things).

    “There’s plenty of stupidity now, the grandniece said, and I know it for what it is. True, Cora conceded, and I’m proud of you for that. But maybe there’s some more, and you don’t know it’s there. Do you know what I’m saying? Honey? To someone who grows up by the stockyards, that smell just smells like air. You don’t know what a younger person might someday think of you, and whatever stench we still breathe in without noticing. Listen to me, honey. Please. I’m old now, and this is something I’ve learned.”

    Race issues always befuddled me a bit; I grew up in a very diverse area and didn’t necessarily see “color”…so I always wondered at the mindset of many, just a few short decades ago. I thought this was very insightful, though, and I’ve actually seen the evidence of change in my life and mindset on certain issues with the passing of years and differing environments.

    Have to feed the kids; I’ll be back for more! :)

    • Deborah August 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      That was a powerful and memorable paragraph. It reminded me of Twain’s quote: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

      Cora struggled with her allegiance to contradicting social morals as demonstrated when Louise took her to the all-black jazz musical “Shuffle Along.” She was prepared to leave because it was all black, but stayed when a black woman and her son take seats beside her: “They couldn’t get up and leave now — not without giving the impression that they were fleeing from the proximity of this woman and the boy, that they were somehow personally offended by them.”

      • Jennifer August 1, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

        And then I LOVE how she enjoys herself anyway, letting those prejudices start to slip away; I also thought it was interesting how she had listened to “them” who said “oh, they don’t really like theater….they prefer the balcony”, etc etc. Wow. But I can look back and see how I have done the same from time to time in different circumstances. Yikes! I’ve changed for the better that way, thank goodness!

  5. Missy August 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    I do that with books….I find I get depressed when the book is over because I miss the book and want to know even more. I’m with Laura…LM Montgomery can make me cry at the drop of a hat! :) OH how I wish there were more Anne of Green Gables books….that series took me to another place and time. :)
    OH…yes, my keys were behind glass. The depth of the mat. combined with the depth of the frame, gave me JUST enough room to have the keys behind glass. :)

  6. ain't for city gals August 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Just want to say my favorite thing about the book (and what lesson I learned) was that Cora was never ever mean about anything…love and kindness seemed to be her mantra even though she had some very strange things happen to her. …I am trying to be more like that….just seems like you can do your own thing without explaing it all to everyone….I wanted the book to go for forever also…And to think I probably never would have read it if it wasn’t for you!! that is why I like book clubs. xo

    • Deborah August 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Sheryl,
      I agree, Cora Carlisle is the epitome of good graces and kindness. She reminded me of my Gram in more ways than one.
      I am glad you enjoyed the book and hope you join in our next read!

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