Monday, November 19, 2012

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

    I recently read the book The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. Below is a picture featuring the book. I was spending a lazy Sunday morning reading, drinking blackberry tea and listening to the CD's I checked out from the library.

  I knew I wanted to read this book when I found out it was about Louise Brooks. I like Louise Brooks's reputation for being both a knowledge-loving bookworm and an irreverent rebel who spent her days ignoring societal expectations in order to live a  hedonistic life of excitement. The Caperone is a fictional book based partially on a real life occurrence in Louise Brooks's life. When Brooks was fifteen she went to New York to a dance school. She was accompanied by a chaperone from her home town of Wichita Kansas. As the title implies, the book is more about Louise Brooks's chaperone, Cora, then it is about Brooks herself. Although the chaperone existed in real life, her name was not Cora. Cora is completely Moriarty's creation.
  The Chaperone deals greatly in the way our experiences shift throughout life and how life experiences lead to theses shifts. Cora's life and world views shift dramatically because of her time spent in New York during her vacation with Brooks. In the beginning of the novel Cora is not particularly fanatic about her views, but her views are thoroughly rooted in the conventions of the time. But as she grows older and gains eye opening experiences  her views begin to conflict with that of the social norm. The 1920's was a time of such drastic social change that it is very interesting seeing the world of the Twenties through the eyes of someone who came to age before the change began. Cora was accustomed to the old conventions that valued propriety and modesty. But the younger generation of women were beginning to rebel against the restraints that the society put on them. Books that take place in the 'olden days', especially those books told through a modern eye, make me feel immensely grateful to be alive in a country and a time when women can be whomever they want to be. Yes, there are still inequalities between the sexes. But modern American women (and women from many other countries) do not have to be physically restricted by clothes such as a corset, or mentally restricted by oppressive views. Women do not have to feel ashamed about their sexuality or dependent on men to thrive in the world. I loved watching Cora change and become empowered throughout The Chaperone. Although Cora starts as a caring and likable character, she was a slightly prudish women. Her views mostly coincided with the more socially conservative and easily scandalized views of the day. But it is so easy to start to look at the world differently when we are introduced to new people and experiences  Cora begins to understand the world in a different way when she sees it through the eyes of another. Cora's life would have been different and less delightful if she hadn't made the trip to New York with Louise Brooks.
  Overall I really enjoyed this novel. Even though this book took place in the past it is a thoroughly modern book and hits on many of the social-issue zeitgeists of our time. This can be both a bad or a good thing depending on what type of book you are looking for. I appreciated the modern element of the books because seeing the past through a modern lens can make the past more understandable.
   I've seen a couple of Louise Brooks films: Pandora's Box and Dairy of a Lost Girl, but after reading this book I wanted to see another one. I feel like I know her more as a person which would make viewing one of her movies more fun. Even though the book is fictional but the author did a lot of research while writing her book (There is a huge list in the back chronicling the books she read to help her write The Chaperone.) so I imagine the way the author created Louise Brooks's character is at least partially accurate. 


Optimistic Existentialist said...

As a "male feminist", I actually would love to check out this book. Thanks for the review!

Amber said...

I am glad to hear it, Keith! And the book was a really fun read.