The Chaperone: 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. Published in 2012. 416 pages.
Laura Moriarty: Laura Moriarty earned a degree in social work before returning for her M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She was the recipient of the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and is now a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
Watch Laura Moriarty talk about The Chaperone at Book Expo America 2012
Topics for discussion that the book will bring up include:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
Read Louise Brook’s autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood.
At your meeting you may want to play music from the 1920’s from composers and vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Jelly Roll Morton, Sophie Tucker, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and George and Ira Gershwin.
Buttery Books has a guide to hosting a book club meeting for The Chaperone that includes a recipe for hard lemonade (pictured), which is “not too sweet”–like the lemonade Cora enjoyed on the train. Author Laura Moriarty has also posted an accompanying honeydew-melon salad recipe on bookclubcookbook.com.
Laura Moriarty introduces part one of The Chaperone with three quotations.
“When lovely woman stoops to folly, she can always find someone to stoop with her but not always someone to lift her up again to the level where she belongs.” “Mr. Grundy” for Atlantic Monthly, 1920
“It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy–it increased her value in his eyes”. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925
“There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!” Henri Langlois, 1955
Discuss why Laura Moriarty chose these particular quotes to open The Chaperone. Post the group’s comments.