Temptation Rag: A Novel
by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard.
Publication Date: December 3, 2018
Belle Epoque Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 308 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
From the author of The Beauty Doctor, Finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award, 2017 AZ Literary Awards, and a Medallion Honoree of the Book Readers Appreciation Group.
Seventeen-year-old May Convery, unhappy with her privileged life in turn-of-the-century New York City, dreams of becoming a poet. When she meets the talented young Mike Bernard, an aspiring concert pianist, she immediately falls in love. But after their secret liaison is discovered, neither is prepared for the far-reaching consequences that will haunt them for decades. As Mike abandons serious music to ruthlessly defend his hard-won title, Ragtime King of the World, May struggles to find her voice as an artist and a woman. It is not until years after their youthful romance, when they cross paths again, that they must finally confront the truth about themselves and each other. But is it too late?
The world of ragtime is the backdrop for a remarkable story about the price of freedom, the longing for immortality, and the human need to find forgiveness. From vaudeville’s greatest stars to the geniuses of early African American musical theater, an unforgettable cast of real-life characters populates this richly-fictionalized historical saga.
Guest Author Post by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, author of Temptation Rag: A Novel
A Nostalgic Journey to Old Vaudeville
Many readers of my historical novel, TEMPTATION RAG, have told me how much they enjoyed being immersed in the fascinating turn-of-the-century world of vaudeville—a world that, before reading my book, they knew very little about. The story of TEMPTATION RAG takes place in New York City, starting in 1895 when a young classically-trained pianist, Mike Bernard, reluctantly accepts a position as musical director of Tony Pastor’s vaudeville theater. By that time, vaudeville was already in full swing.
Before vaudeville became king, the places for popular entertainment were limited. Honky-tonks and beer halls were bawdy and rough and catered to a strictly male clientele. There also were hundreds of “museums,” all around the country, that featured “freak shows” and curio halls. Attached to these museums, there might also be a small theater where short dramas or stand-up acts would be performed. The usual price of a theater ticket was five or ten cents, with an extra ten cents on top of that if you wanted to sit rather than stand.
But then, in 1865, the great theatrical entrepreneur Tony Pastor came up with the idea that a theater ought to be a place where ladies and gentlemen and even children could go for entertainment in an atmosphere that was entirely civilized. Pastor opened his first theater, Tony Pastor’s Opera House, at 199-201 Bowery in New York City. The place had gas footlights that, before each show, were lit by a stagehand with a long wax taper. Everyone had a seat from which to view a cavalcade of short acts.
From the beginning, Pastor’s theater was a big success. By 1895, when the action of TEMPTATION RAG begins, he had moved to a location on 14th Street and was packing in the crowds, featuring big headliners, and offering two shows a day—a matinee and an evening performance. In TEMPTATION RAG, on the occasion of pianist Mike Bernard’s debut as the theater’s musical director, the line-up is described as follows:
“The first attraction was a waltzing monkey. The little beast, dressed like a harem girl, was ordered about by a bare-chested man in billowing silk pants and a flowing headdress. For background, Mike led the orchestra in its rendition of ‘The Blue Danube,’ punctuated periodically by strains of an oboe meant to sound like a snake charmer’s pungi.
“Next were the singing Jemm sisters, followed by a comedy dialogue between two bums on a park bench that garnered plenty of laughs despite having been scrubbed clean of its funniest but marginally off-color material during the morning rehearsal. For the audience’s further delight were the all-male Liberty Quartet, a professional regurgitator—who started by swallowing a goldfish and worked his way up to a small shark—a dog and donkey act and, last before intermission, the British-born singer and dancer Pauline Markham. She had once been a popular favorite but was rumored to be on a downward slide. Still, this afternoon she earned a standing ovation and returned for two encores.”
When writing the novel, I was able to reconstruct a typical vaudeville program at Tony Pastor’s theater by locating some of the authentic old playbills. I also watched archived films of some of the earliest vaudeville acts. There was a wide range of talent, or lack thereof, in vaudeville. The pay was not much, unless you were a star—but, in that case, the money was surprisingly good! In the early 1900s, a top headliner at Tony Pastor’s or one of the other big theaters in New York might be paid as much as several thousand dollars a week. Hard to imagine how so many of them—like Ben Harney, the self-proclaimed Originator of Ragtime and one of the real-life characters in TEMPTATION RAG—ended up broke. But when vaudeville and ragtime were so huge, and performers like Ben Harney and Mike Bernard were packing the theaters every night, it was easy to believe the good times would never end.
The demise of ragtime and vaudeville, as jazz music and movie theaters swept the country, is in some ways a tragic tale. The characters of TEMPTATION RAG, in their own ways, struggle to change with the times—to make peace with the past and understand what really matters in the end. Their stories are woven into the fabric of an era that had a tremendous impact on American life—an impact that still reverberates in today’s popular culture.
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Praise for Temptation Rag:
“Fascinating real-life characters make Temptation Rag an emotional and page-turning story of passion, ambition, and desire.” – Megan Chance, bestselling author of Bone River and Inamorata
“Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard captures the style of the ragtime era. Music, art and culture spring from every page of this delightfully artistic work.” – Readers’ Favorite Book Review, 5 stars
“Terrific historical research and deft writing provide a striking portrait of racial and gender inequality in the ragtime era. An unforgettable and deeply human story.” – Frederic Tulsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
“Ms. Bernard weaves her knowledge of music with true historical characters and fictionalized ones into a syncopated symphony of human drama.” -Kathryn Wood, author of Sea Snow: the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse
“A gripping page-turner that has romance, history and music. A smart retelling of history through multiple points of view.” – SA Examiner Book Review
About the Author
Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is an award-winning author of historical fiction. Her novel The Beauty Doctor is a suspenseful tale that takes place in the early days of cosmetic surgery—when the world of medicine was a bit like the Wild West and beauty doctors were the newest breed of outlaw. Temptation Rag: A Novel immerses readers in the bawdy atmosphere of vaudeville and early twentieth-century African American musical theater in a story about the price of freedom, the longing for immortality, and the human need to find forgiveness. Elizabeth currently lives in Arizona with her husband and their much-loved and very spoiled black Lab.
Blog Tour Schedule
- Monday, February 18 Review at Passages to the Past
- Tuesday, February 19 Review at Pursuing Stacie
- Wednesday, February 20 Feature at The Book Junkie Reads and
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
- Friday, February 22 Excerpt at Maiden of the Pages
- Saturday, February 23 Guest Post at The Chocolate Lady’s Book Reviews
- Monday, February 25 Review at Peppermint Ph.D.
- Tuesday, February 26 Excerpt at CelticLady’s Reviews
- Wednesday, February 27 Interview at Passages to the Past
- Friday, March 1 Review at View from the Birdhouse
- Monday, March 4 Review at Macsbooks
- Wednesday, March 6 Review at A Chick Who Reads
- Friday, March 8 Excerpt at Broken Teepee
- Tuesday, March 12 Review at Reader then Blogger
- Friday, March 15 Review at Coffee and Ink
During the Blog Tour we will be giving away copies of Bernard’s other novel, The Beauty Doctor. One paperback and two eBooks are up for grabs. To enter, please use the Gleam form below.
- Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
- Giveaway is open to US only.
- Only one entry per household.
- All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
- Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.