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“The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty is a novel rich in historical detail that sweeps the reader in time to the Roaring Twenties. The story follows the fictional life of Cora Carlise and real life silver screen actress Louise Brooks.
The author uses factual information about Ms. Brooks, a well-known star of silent films, to create within the story a commentary on the social norms of the day. A Midwestern matron of 36, Cora represents the old, while Louise, at age 15 represents the new with her bobbed hair and short skirts.
In 1922, Cora accompanies Louise from Wichita, Kan. to New York to study dance. But Cora has another agenda for going to New York. At the age of 6, she was left at a city orphanage and then sent on an orphan train to Kansas. She wants to find out about her past and the woman who abandoned her.
Cora takes her chaperoning seriously. Even before her film career, Louise was a headstrong and adventuresome girl. She flirts with men and wears shocking clothes. But Cora is determined to keep her focused. In the process, as Louise rebels, Cora begins to see another point of view. Louise is very bright, having read most of the novels Cora knows. And, as Louise points out, Cora could lean down to retrieve an object from the floor if she just quit wearing her corset. The corset becomes a metaphor for Cora, and the trip becomes a life-changing experience. Cora slowly begins to shed some her old social norms, and the author uses this to represent the shift in the era’s societal beliefs. Cora is a woman of her time, and “The Chaperone” shows her struggling with what she thinks she knows.