The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
published 2012 Part 3
It was soon discovered that Myra, riding the tide of Louise’s swelling fame, had landed a spot on the Redpath Chautauqua circuit, giving lectures on how she had nurtured her famous daughter’s poise and beauty – and how she had kept her own. The women of Wichita wondered aloud if Myra, when lecturing on her maternal wisdom, ever mentioned that she’d abandoned Louise’s younger brother and sister, or if, because only Louise’s name was lucrative, she didn’t mention her other children at all.
They could only guess what Louise herself thought about any of this. By then, she was truly famous and unreachable. Her name was on the screen with W C Fields’s, and the magazines were reporting that she was to marry her newest film’s young and handsome director. Soon the magazines were describing the newlyweds’ beautiful new home in California, and lavish parties with caviar, and picnics with famous friends at the Hearst castle. Louise was photographed with her new husband in evening gowns and, when she visited New York, various fur coats.
observations: This wonderful book is an unexpected treat, from a writer new to me. The initial concept is perfect and an instant come-on – Cora, a respectable but dissastisfied housewife in 1920s Wichita, travels to New York as chaperone to the beautiful young dancer Louise Brooks. The two women spend the summer there, then life takes them in different directions. Part of the joy of the book is not knowing too much about what is going to happen – not because there is any suspense or mystery, but because it is intriguingly open, it’s impossible to guess where the book is going next, even if you know the outlines of what happens to Brooks - a real-life silent movie star. Devastatingly beautiful and endlessly fascinating, her short memoir Lulu in Hollywood makes you wish she’d managed to write more, between the drink and the men.
Chautauquas (apart from being hard to spell) were educational or inspirational travelling shows – music, speakers, drama. The Wikipedia entry is well worth a look.
With thanks to Riona for the suggestion.
Links up with: The book deals with the Denishawn Dance Company, pioneers of modern dance, and there exists a marvellous collection of photos of the company, which we’ve used before on the blog. Brooks features in the comments on this entry here, and this photo of Ruth St Denis – to illustrate a relatively unknown book - is one of the most popular pictures to have appeared here. In fact she looks quite like Brooks in this image.
The photograph of Louise Brooks above is from the US Library of Congress collection.