American History12 Jul 2010 12:34 pm
Last week, in a post about Eugene O’Neill, we suggested a look at E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel “Ragtime.” Today’s entry in the American History Edition, about J. P. Morgan, gives us an opportunity to take a closer look at this remarkable novel.
“Ragtime” takes place throughout the United States, roughly between the years 1902 and 1920. It opens at a New England home, with a traveler in a new contraption — an “automobile” — stopping in for a glass of water. The traveler is the famous conjurer Harry Houdini, who punctuates the novel at a series of important points (including the end of each section and the final scene in the book). In between, a fascinating and exciting story unfolds, and I won’t ruin it for you. (Read the book! Skip the musical!)
One of the main characters in “Ragtime” is J. P. Morgan, and he’s rendered in a fascinating and creative way. In a pivotal scene, he entertains Henry Ford, whom he regards as one of his few equals and peers. While they chat in Morgan’s library — one of our favorite New York City spots — the financial magnate introduces a pet theory to the pioneer of the modern assembly line. Morgan believes that there are certain extraordinary people who continuously reappear throughout history, a line that can be traced back to the Egyptian pharaohs. Morgan wants to take a trip up the Nile to explore his theory, and he invites Ford to join him. Morgan’s extravagant theories clearly offend the genial Midwesterner, and he politely declines. The trip still happens, though without Ford. What happens? Won’t ruin that for you either…
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