Cover image for Ragtime
Title:
Ragtime
Author:
Doctorow, E. L., 1931-2015.
Personal Author:
Edition:
Modern Library edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Modern Library, 1997.

©1975
Physical Description:
viii, 320 pages ; 20 cm
Language:
English
Reading Level:
930 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC High School 9 18 Quiz: 25705 Guided reading level: NR.
ISBN:
9780679602972
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Classics
Searching...
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Central Library
Searching...
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.

The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.


Author Notes

E. L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow was born on January 6, 1931, in the Bronx, New York. He received an A.B. in philosophy in 1952 from Kenyon College and did graduate work at Columbia University. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1953-1955.

He began his career as a script reader for CBS Television and Columbia Pictures and as a senior editor for the New American Library. He was editor-in-chief for Dial Press from 1964 to 1969, where he also served as vice president and publisher in his last year on staff. It was at this time that he decided to write full time.

He wrote novels, short stories, essays, and a play. His debut novel, Welcome to Hard Times, was published in 1960 and was adapted into a film in 1967. His other works include, Loon Lake, The Waterworks, The March, Homer and Langley, and Andrew's Brain. He won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1986 for World's Fair and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1976 for Ragtime, which was adapted into a film in 1981 and a Broadway musical in 1998. Billy Bathgate received the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal in 1990. The Book of Daniel and Billy Bathgate were also adapted into films. He received the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for his outstanding achievement in fiction writing. He died of complications from lung cancer on July 21, 2015 at the age of 84.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

It isn't easy to imitate musical syncopation in prose, but Doctorow pulls it off in the audio edition of his now-classic 1975 novel. The ebb and flow and swing of his sentences, reflecting turn-of-the-century jazz genres, are captured perfectly in his low-key, fast-paced reading. Doctorow seamlessly interweaves his invented characters and incidents with a wide range of historical events and people like Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Sigmund Freud, and others to create a portrait of early-20th-century America that presages the rise of the civil rights and women's movements and our involvement in two world wars. Doctorow's novel and his narration are gifts to savor. A Random House paperback. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Doctorow (1931-2015) reads his classic historical novel (first published in 1975) about the opening days of the 20th century with a dispassionate voice that doesn't stress, emphasize, or otherwise try to influence the listener. He lets the story speak for itself as he narrates as if he were reading a newspaper describing the intermingling of famous people with the ordinary, barely named fictional ones-Mother, Father, Brother, Tateh, etc. Brief intersections hint at unknown potential: Tateh sketching a portrait of Evelyn Nesbit while Freud watches from a car; Houdini having automobile trouble near Father's house; and learning that Father was to accompany Robert Peary to the North Pole. The new century was a time of wonder and change-cars, airplanes, high-risk escapes-and of culture clashes with the poor, blacks, and immigrants that result in injustice, violence, and death. Verdict The fascinating, ironic, and fanciful strands that Doctorow pulls from history and imagination are both humorous and horrific. Hearing the story in the author's own voice is the best way to read this book. Highly recommended.-Juleigh Muirhead Clark, Colonial Williamsburg Fdn. Lib., VA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York. It was a three-story brown shingle with dormers, bay windows and a screened porch. Striped awnings shaded the windows. The family took possession of this stout manse on a sunny day in June and it seemed for some years thereafter that all their days would be warm and fair. The best part of Father's income was derived from the manufacture of flags and buntings and other accoutrements of patriotism, including fireworks. Patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900's. Teddy Roosevelt was President. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theatres, operas, ballrooms. There seemed to be no entertainment that did not involve great swarms of people. Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visited the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting. There were no Negroes. There were no immigrants. On Sunday afternoon, after dinner, Father and Mother went upstairs and closed the bedroom door. Grandfather fell asleep on the divan in the parlor. The Little Boy in the sailor blouse sat on the screened porch and waved away the flies. Down at the bottom of the hill Mother's Younger Brother boarded the streetcar and rode to the end of the line. He was a lonely, withdrawn young man with blond moustaches, and was thought to be having difficulty finding himself. The end of the line was an empty field of tall marsh grasses. The air was salt. Mother's Younger Brother in his white linen suit and boater rolled his trousers and walked barefoot in the salt marshes. Sea birds started and flew up. This was the time in our history when Winslow Homer was doing his painting. A certain light was still available along the Eastern seaboard. Homer painted the light. It gave the sea a heavy dull menace and shone coldly on the rocks and shoals of the New England coast. There were unexplained shipwrecks and brave towline rescues. Odd things went on in lighthouses and in shacks nestled in the wild beach plum. Across America sex and death were barely distinguishable. Runaway women died in the rigors of ecstasy. Stories were hushed up and reporters paid off by rich families. One read between the lines of the journals and gazettes. In New York City the papers were full of the shooting of the famous architect Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw, eccentric scion of a coke and railroad fortune. Harry K. Thaw was the husband of Evelyn Nesbit, the celebrated beauty who had once been Stanford White's mistress. The shooting took place in the roof garden of the Madison Square Garden on 26th Street, a spectacular block-long building of yellow brick and terra cotta that White himself had designed in the Sevillian style. It was the opening night of a revue entitled Mamzelle Champagne, and as the chorus sang and danced the eccentric scion wearing on this summer night a straw boater and heavy black coat pulled out a pistol and shot the famous architect three times in the head. On the roof. There were screams. Evelyn fainted. She had been a well-known artist's model at the age of fifteen. Her underclothes were white. Her husband habitually whipped her. She happened once to meet Emma Goldman, the revolutionary. Goldman lashed her with her tongue. Apparently there were Negroes. There were immigrants. And though the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, Goldman knew it was only 1906 and there were ninety-four years to go. Mother's Younger Brother was in love with Evelyn Nesbit. He had closely followed the scandal surrounding her name and had begun to reason that the death of her lover Stanford White and the imprisonment of her husband Harry K. Thaw left her in need of the attentions of a genteel middle-class young man with no money. He thought about her all the time. He was desperate to have her. In his room pinned on the wall was a newspaper drawing by Charles Dana Gibson entitled 'The Eternal Question.' It showed Evelyn in profile, with a profusion of hair, one thick strand undone and fallen in the configuration of a question mark. Her downcast eye was embellished with a fallen ringlet that threw her brow in shadow. Her nose was delicately upturned. Her mouth was slightly pouted. Her long neck curved like a bird taking wing. Evelyn Nesbit had caused the death of one man and wrecked the life of another and from that he deduced that there was nothing in life worth having, worth wanting, but the embrace of her thin arms. The afternoon was a blue haze. Tidewater seeped into his footprints. He bent down and found a perfect shell specimen, a variety not common to western Long Island Sound. It was a voluted pink and amber shell the shape of a thimble, and what he did in the hazy sun with the salt drying on his ankles was to throw his head back and drink the minute amount of sea water in the shell. Gulls wheeled overhead, crying like oboes, and behind him at the land end of the marsh, out of sight behind the tall grasses, the distant bell of the North Avenue streetcar tolled its warning. Across town the little boy in the sailor suit was suddenly restless and began to measure the length of the porch. He trod with his toe upon the runner of the cane-backed rocking chair. He had reached that age of knowledge and wisdom in a child when it is not expected by the adults around him and consequently goes unrecognized. He read the newspaper daily and was currently following the dispute between the professional baseballers and a scientist who claimed that the curve ball was an optical illusion. He felt that the circumstances of his family's life operated against his need to see things and to go places. For instance he had conceived an enormous interest in the works and career of Harry Houdini, the escape artist. But he had not been taken to a performance. Houdini was a headliner in the top vaudeville circuits. His audiences were poor people--carriers, peddlers, policemen, children. His life was absurd. He went all over the world accepting all kinds of bondage and escaping. He was roped to a chair. He escaped. He was chained to a ladder. He escaped. He was handcuffed, his legs were put in irons, he was tied up in a strait jacket and put in a locked cabinet. He escaped. He escaped from bank vaults, nailed-up barrels, sewn mailbags; he escaped from a zinc-lined Knabe piano case, a giant football, a galvanized iron boiler, a rolltop desk, a sausage skin. His escapes were mystifying because he never damaged or appeared to unlock what he escaped from. The screen was pulled away and there he stood disheveled but triumphant beside the inviolate container that was supposed to have contained him. He waved to the crowd. He escaped from a sealed milk can filled with water. He escaped from a Siberian exile van. From a Chinese torture crucifix. From a Hamburg penitentiary. From an English prison ship. From a Boston jail. He was chained to automobile tires, water wheels, cannon, and he escaped. He dove manacled from a bridge into the Mississippi, the Seine, the Mersey, and came up waving. He hung upside down and strait-jacketed from cranes, biplanes and the tops of buildings. He was dropped into the ocean padlocked in a diving suit fully weighted and not connected to an air supply, and he escaped. He was buried alive in a grave and could not escape, and had to be rescued. Hurriedly, they dug him out. The earth is too heavy, he said gasping. His nails bled. Soil fell from his eyes. He was drained of color and couldn't stand. His assistant threw up. Houdini wheezed and sputtered. He coughed blood. They cleaned him off and took him back to the hotel. Today, nearly fifty years since his death, the audience for escapes is even larger. The little boy stood at the end of the porch and fixed his gaze on a bluebottle fly traversing the screen in a way that made it appear to be coming up the hill from North Avenue. The fly flew off. An automobile was coming up the hill from North Avenue. As it drew closer he saw it was a black 45-horsepower Pope-Toledo Runabout. He ran along the porch and stood at the top of the steps. The car came past his house, made a loud noise and swerved into the telephone pole. The little boy ran inside and called upstairs to his mother and father. Grandfather woke with a start. The boy ran back to the porch. The driver and the passenger were standing in the street looking at the car: it had big wheels with pneumatic tires and wooden spokes painted in black enamel. It had brass headlamps in front of the radiator and brass sidelamps over the fenders. It had tufted upholstery and double side entrances. It did not appear to be damaged. The driver was in livery. He folded back the hood and a geyser of white steam shot up with a hiss. Excerpted from Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.