Publication Date: June 5, 2012
It’s 1922 and respectably married Cora chaperones a 15-year-old Louise Brooks to New York City for her multi-week training with and audition for the Denishawn School of Dancing. What Louise doesn’t know is that Cora’s earliest memories are of living in a home for girls in New York City and has taken the position with a hope of finding out more about where she has come from.
The Chaperone is not the story of Louise Brooks. She is a facilitator for the plot. Those facts that pertain to Brooks are incredibly well researched. Brooks did, indeed, travel to New York City for the opportunity highlighted. Much of what we see of Brooks, through Cora’s sometimes judgmental and sometimes fond gaze, is based on deep research of the actresses own account of her past as well as research done by others. Though Brooks often comes off, in the story, as a bit of a caricature, there are moments when she shines as a fully realized character.
As a look into history, The Chaperone discusses how rapidly standard, morals, and styles changed in the 20th century. Cora is many women in that she has a life that to the outside world seems ideal and aspirational. She and her lawyer husband, because we are in an era where your worth as a woman in entrenched in the man you managed to attract and the life you live with him, have twin boys that are headed off to college. They are above reproach in society but both have deep secrets that could damage them greatly. As someone who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian religion, I identified with Cora in that the smallest thing could bring judgement and isolation from one’s community. Morality in The Chaperone is often subjective as it is in life.
Though Cora knows how tentative her position could be, at the start of the story it doesn’t lead her to be more open minded. She sees the way that Louise acts as dangerous, and it is quite reckless. At the start of their association, Louise is a means to an end and not someone Cora especially likes or feels protective toward. Readers may find Cora pretty unlikable at first and they’ll find Louise a character of what we know of the actress. As stated, this is not the story of Louise Brooks but she does grow within the narrative with time, as does Cora.
A flaw, I think, within the narrative is that it takes us through the course of Cora’s life. I think honing in on the events of the trip to New York City and maybe a short aftermath would make the story more cohesive. I can certainly see why the author made the choice she did. We are left with something of a major twist in the story and readers would want to know how it worked out. We also see Cora grow incrementally within that period and we follow up with Louise. That said, I would have rated the book higher without it. I did find it interesting to learn that Lysol was once advertised as birth control. A little yuck, but interesting.
The Chaperone is a worthwhile read. As a work of historical fiction, it is well done. The author conveys the time well and the real life character is very true within her known historical timeline. If you like historical fiction, pick The Chaperone up today.
Read an excerpt and buy The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty on