The Chaperone is a story about discovering identity in an era when character was widely defined by society. The story is centered on Cora Carlisle, a middle-aged woman from Wichita, who volunteers to chaperone fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks to New York City for a summer-long dance audition. Cora’s motivation for going to New York City is not as selfless as it may seem, however. Cora grew up in a New York orphanage, and she desires to learn more about her background. She sees an opportunity to actively investigate her birth family by becoming Louise’s chaperone.
As she travels with Louise and watches over her in New York, Cora recalls her days in the orphanage, and her placement with adoptive parents. Through such recollections she realizes the purpose for her quest is not only to understand her past, but also to make sense of the future.
Cora is the epitome of 1920’s proper society. She wears a corset, believes skirts above the knee are indecent, and doesn’t understand girls who bob their hair. With ideals like these established, Laura Moriarty begins to interweave history into her fiction. By developing Louise Brooks, as Cora’s young responsibility, Moriarty challenges Cora’s belief structure and establishes the context that society was undergoing a change in identity.
Prior to reading The Chaperone I knew very little about Louise Brooks and her rise to stardom in the 1920’s. While Louise’s development as a star is not the focus of the novel, her presence helps drive home the changing ideals of the time period. Louise represents a movement from Cora’s proper ideals towards the more radical ideals of a younger generation. As Cora becomes more invested in her search for self-discovery, she finds that the world changes even if an individual does not.
I really enjoyed this novel. It combined history in a way that did not overshadow the characteristics of Moriarty’s fictional tale. Her prose is not overwhelmingly descriptive or dry, which can be an issue with historical novels. Cora is also a very likable character, whose struggle is emotional and fairly relatable to any reader who has struggled to figure out who they are in a changing world. It is the perfect blend of original fiction wrapped in historical detail. I highly recommend this book.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.