The Chaperone Summary & Study Guide

Laura Moriarty
This Study Guide consists of approximately 51 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Chaperone.
This section contains 2,406 words
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The Chaperone Summary & Study Guide Description

The Chaperone Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.

The following version of the text was used to create this study guide: Moriarty, Laura. The Chaperone. First Edition. Riverhead Books, 2013.

NOTE: In the novel, chapters are numbered by cardinal names, such as One, Two, etc. In this guide, the chapters are numbered as follows: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.

The Chaperone is written by Laura Moriarty. The novel is told from the third-person limited perspective, with the narrator focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, 36-year-old Cora. Cora lives in Wichita, Kansas in the 1920’s. She has two sons, and is married to 48-year-old Alan. Cora and her family are considered progressive, as she was involved with the suffragist movement and drives a car.

The novel opens with Cora and her friend Viola preparing a delivery of books to the local library. It begins to rain, so they wait in the car and talk. Viola expresses irritation at Myra Brooks, a fellow suffragist, who is searching for someone to chaperone her 15-year-old daughter Louise to New York City that coming summer. The two then discuss their discomfort with the changing fashions of the times, such as short hair and rising hemlines. Viola says she is considering joining the Klu Klux Klan, and though Cora is uncomfortable at the thought, she only combats by telling Viola it is unfashionable.

Later, Cora goes to pick her husband Alan up from work. It is clear he is incredibly handsome based on the reactions from his many secretaries and typists. On the drive home, Cora tells Alan that she plans on escorting Louise Brooks to New York City. He is shocked, but Cora is determined to go.

Soon after, Cora visits Myra to discuss her plan for chaperoning Louise. Cora is startled to find that Myra’s house is disorganized. What’s more, Myra seems not to care whether Cora is qualified or invested in Louise’s safety. When Louise comes into the room, complaining that her older brother Martin hit her after she found him reading her diary, Myra could not care less, despite the ugly bruise forming on Louise’s shoulder. Cora and Louise are introduced, and their relationship begins on a positive note. Cora, however, feels herself growing to dislike Myra.

In July, Alan and Louise’s father, Leonard, see Cora and Louise off at the train station. Once on the train, Louise is thrilled at the prospect of finally leaving Kansas behind. Cora, however, is nervous as she feels she is headed for something unknown.

In Chapter 4, the novel flashes back to when Cora was a young girl living at an orphanage in New York City. She does not remember her parents or her life before the orphanage, and does her best to behave for the nuns who oversee the orphanage. One day, Cora and several other girls are taken from the orphanage to a place called the Children’s Aid Society. They are told they are to join more children on a train heading west, where families will adopt them. Cora is uncertain, but has no choice. As she is shy, it takes some time before she is adopted, but eventually a plain couple in Kansas chooses to take her home.

In the present once more, Cora wakes up on the train to find Louise is gone. Cora finds her in the dining car, having lunch with two strange men. Though the strangers seem friendly enough, Cora later reprimands Louise for potentially sullying her reputation. She proceeds to lecture Louise about the dangers of gaining a reputation as one who has premarital sex. In response, Louise simply laughs and expresses a belief that Cora is extremely outdated in her thinking.

In Chapter 6, Cora’s childhood with the Kaufmann family is recounted. Though Cora loves her adoptive parents, she struggles to make any friends at school, as her status as an orphan deems her a social outcast. Cora’s parents help her assimilate by teaching her to play Graces, a game that all of the other girls at school play. When Cora becomes an expert in the game, she is able to make friends at school.

Tragically, when Cora is 16, both Kaufmanns die in a farming accident. Cora is devastated. What’s more, she has no resources as Mr. Kaufmann’s children from a previous marriage are attempting to cut Cora out of any inheritance. A neighboring family, the Lindquists, decide to help Cora by hiring a young lawyer, Alan Carlisle, to work on her case. After meeting just once, it is clear Alan has feelings for Cora. After helping her win her case, Alan begins courting Cora and their relationship becomes serious.

In Part Two, Louise and Cora arrive in New York City. Louise takes to the city within seconds of arrival, proclaiming it is where she is meant to be. They take a taxi to the small apartment where they will be staying. Louise wishes to see the city, but Cora demands that she cannot go out by herself, lest she risk being sexually assaulted. Louise pouts but obeys. The morning after they arrive, Louise begins her lessons at Denishawn. Cora watches from the back, where Ruth St. Denis--one of the company’s founders--approaches her to inquire about Louise’s known penchant for arrogance. She also tells Cora to go out and explore the city while Louise is at her daily five-hour lessons.

Cora, with directions from the server at a nearby luncheonette, heads downtown to The New York Home for Friendless Girls. She is overwhelmed by the neighborhood, which is filled with all types of immigrants, and clear poverty. Cora arrives at the orphanage, where she meets with Sister Delores. Cora expresses a deep desire to see her records and learn about her birth parents, but Sister Delores protests, saying it is an impossible request and would dishonor the Kaufmann's. Cora leaves, sorely disappointed.

One evening, Cora and Louise attend a performance of the Ziegfeld Follies. Louise critiques the poor acting of the chorus girls, and remarks that--though Cora did not let her--most of the women in attendance are wearing makeup. Cora can’t help but notice how old fashioned she looks in comparison to the other women. Still, she insists Louise is fine the way she is. They agree that they are unhappy with their seats, which prompts Louise to flirt with an usher, resulting in an exclusive box.

A subsequent day, Cora returns to The New York Home for Friendless Girls, where she attempts to replicate Louise’s technique. She tries to appear seductive to a handyman and persuade him into getting her files. He sees through her ruse, but pities her desperation and agrees to help on another day.

On Louise’s first day without class, the pair attend a performance of the musical Shuffle Along. Cora is nervous when she realized the audience is integrated, and that the show itself is centered around the lives of Black individuals. Though Cora does not think of herself as a racist, her prejudices are evident. Ultimately, she is surprised to find she enjoys the show. Later on, Cora, comes across a postcard in which Louise tells her brother she thinks Cora is boring and unintelligent. Cora tries not to be hurt, but it is clear she is upset.

In Eleven, reflections on Cora’s early marriage reveal a difficult pregnancy that meant Cora was never allowed to become pregnant again, lest she risk almost-certain death. The chapter also reveals how, approximately five years after their marriage, Cora discovered Alan in bed with a male friend, Raymond. The conversation that followed confirms Alan’s homosexuality and thus explains the relationship Cora and Alan presently have.

In Twelve, Cora finally gains access to her records with the help of the German handyman. Inside the folder, she finds a letter from Mother Kaufmann, requesting more information about Cora’s origins. She also finds a letter from a woman named Mary O’Dell, who claims to be a friend of Cora’s birth mother. Cora takes both of these letters and leaves the office, planning to search for Mary.

Cora soon learns that the Florence Night Mission, a location mentioned in Mary’s letter, is no longer active. Therefore, Cora must send a letter to Mary herself and await her response. She can’t help but he anxious as they days pass without a reply. She tours the city and writes to her family. She is irritated when Alan sends her money and tells her to buy herself something nice. Instead, she heads to the orphanage and, with the help of the handyman (who now introduces himself as Joseph Schmidt), purchases a radio for the girls. After making the purchase, Cora and Joseph sit in a deli for a drink. Their conversation becomes romantic, and it is clear that both of them are developing a romantic interest. Cora, fearful, abruptly leaves to pick up Louise from her class.

In Fourteen, Cora awaits Mary O’Dell at Grand Central Station. After meeting, it quickly becomes evident that Mary is Cora’s mother. They share their backstories, and Mary reveals that she became pregnant as a teenager with a boy she barely knew. A Boston native, Mary traveled to New York City, where she stayed at the Florence Night Mission until Cora was six months old, before returning North. Mary makes it clear that Cora is to have no contact with her family, though she tries to express a fondness for Cora. Cora is deeply offended that Mary seemingly wants nothing to do with her, though she keeps these feelings to herself.

Later that day, Cora picks up Louise from her class to the news that Denishawn is offering her a probationary spot with the troupe. If she proves herself worthy on a trip to Philadelphia the next day, she will be offered a permanent position. Cora is happy for Louise, but still struggling with her own disappointment after meeting Mary. When they arrive back at the apartment, Cora falls asleep early. When she wakes in the middle of the night, she finds Louise is not in bed. A while later, Floyd brings a very drunk Louise back to the apartment. Cora forces Floyd to leave, and sits with Louise while she vomits in the bathroom. Cora, after prodding Louise for information about whether she had sex that night, learns that Louise has been the victim of abuse multiple times in the past. Both the Sunday school teacher and an older man from Louise’s old town lured Louise into sex. Though Louise feels she enjoyed these encounters, Cora tries to make her understand they were abusive situations. Cora then realizes that she has been highly judgmental of Louise the entire summer, and never considered the details of Louise’s past.

The next day, Louise is still sickly, but she heads to the dance studio regardless, determined to go to Philadelphia. Cora wanders the city, feeling bad about herself and disappointed in the trip overall. Nothing can seem to take her mind off of this feeling, and eventually she finds herself at the apartment of Joseph the handyman. The pair proceed to have sex, and Cora realizes how intimate and special the act can be. They agree to see each other again soon.

After Louise’s dance class the following day, she announces she will officially be joining Denishawn and moving into the company boarding house later that week. This means that Cora is at liberty to go home that weekend. En route back to the apartment, Cora tells Louise to go to the luncheonette to apologize to Floyd. Back at the apartment, Cora is greeted by a knock on the door that turns out to be Joseph and his daughter, Greta. Joseph explains the nuns were attempting to send Greta on a train out west, and so they were forced to leave the orphanage so they could remain together. Joseph says he has a friend who they can stay with temporarily, but Cora suggests they come to Wichita instead. Suddenly, Louise appears in the apartment, and realizes the situation at hand.

In Part Three, the reader sees Cora return to Wichita with Joseph and Greta in tow. At first she tells Alan that Joseph is her long-lost brother, but soon reveals the true nature of their relationship. Cora is able to secure Joseph and Greta’s safety with the knowledge of Alan’s homosexuality. Despite a tense start, the family soon develops a real ease and happiness. Cora and Raymond are even able to repair their relationship. As Greta grows, Cora also watches Louise grow from afar. Louise becomes a famous actress whose photo is everywhere, and whose private affairs are public knowledge. Cora resists gossip about Louise, and even defends her to her friends and fellow society women. Near Christmas in 1937, Cora sees Myra at a local department store, and Myra disparages her daughter’s career, which she considers to be a failure.

In Twenty, World War II starts and Wichita booms economically as a result. Earle heads to do medical work for the army, leaving Cora sick with worry. Cora hears that Louise has returned to Wichita, and makes a point of visiting her. She finds Louise living with her dying mother. Louise is broke, drinking, and sick of Hollywood. Cora is angry that Louise has given up so easily and tells her to get out of Wichita. Not long after, she receives a postcard from Louise, thanking her for the suggestion.

In the final chapter, when the war ends all seems well until Alan becomes sick. He is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and dies just weeks after his diagnosis. Cora grows older and is in wonderful health despite her advancing age. Joseph, too, seems to be in good health until he dies suddenly when a blood vessel bursts in his brain. Howard dies not long after Joseph. Cora hears mixed stories about Louise, with some saying she is a drunk living in New York City. Others say that she is the toast of Paris. When Cora is very old, she is moved into a retirement home, where her grandson Walt visits her. Walt is a film professor and they talk about Louise. Walt tells her she has just released a hit memoir, and Cora is thrilled to hear this. Not long after, Cora suffers a stroke and dies peacefully.

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