â€œDo not play this piece
It is never right to play Ragtime fast ."
Though I had studied the Gilded Age in high school American
history classes, my real interest in it was stimulated by Ragtime.
First there was the music, popularized by composer Scott
Joplin. It became the sound track of the period with its heavy,
syncopated rhythm (think the theme of The Sting).
Then there was the novel by one of my favorite authors, E. L.
Doctorow. Published in 1975 by Random House, it tells the
story of three interlocking familiesâ€”a well-to-do white family
that lives in a big house on the hill, a Jewish immigrant family
struggling to survive in a NewYork tenement, and a middle-class
African American family struggling against unreasoning hatred to
maintain their dignity.
All are sharply drawn as individuals in their own social context,
as well as in their interrelationship, as they bring to life a
neglected period of history.
The work of historical fiction is set primarily in the New York
City area from 1902 to 1917 It features historical characters,
including Evelyn Nesbit, Emma Goldman, Henry Houdini, Henry
Ford, J. P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington, in minor roles.
The novel was very well received by literary critics. Nominated
for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, it won the National Book
Critics Circle Award for fiction and the Arts and Letters Award.
In 1981, the story was made into a movie. Directed by Milos
Forman, it starred Mandy Patinkin, Mary Steenburgen, Howard
E. Rollins, Jr., and Debbie Allen, with Norman Mailer and
James Cagney in minor roles.
In 1996, it became a musical. The musical opened on
Broadway in 1998, on the West End in 2003, and was revived
on Broadway in 2009. It won Tonys for Best Book and Score.