The Randy Life of E.L. Doctorow

Currently, my Metro reading is Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. It is a book I read in high school, but I don't remember it very well so I decided to give it another go.

Doctorow is a true storyteller. Ragtime is a mixture of historical fact and fiction and the author entwines the two like a Navajo weaver. You almost believe that Tateh and the Little Girl really interacted with historical figures like Evelyn Nesbit and Emma Goldman. You almost buy into the story that Father traveled to the North Pole with Matthew Peary. Almost, but not quite, because real people don't have names like "The Little Girl" or "Father."

The book also mentions sex a lot. It's not graphic; Doctorow merely tells a story and thus mentions the sexy bits just as well as he describes the weather and the Little Boy's blonde hair. Sex definitely seems to be a regular theme in the book, which has made me wonder why Doctorow has chosen to focus on it so much.

My initial conclusion is that Doctorow wants to comment on the Victorian sexuality that was was in abundance when Ragtime takes place. Gentlewomen were expected to be the epitome of virtue and chastity. When they participated in sexual acts after marriage, they were expected to lay quietly and think of gardens while their husbands committed the dirty deed.

Perhaps Doctorow is saying that this Victorian ideal was a sham. Sex is meant to be enjoyed and there were plenty of people in the 1910s--many who were women--that enjoyed it very much, like Evelyn Nesbit. American society may have projected this ideal on its citizens, but it remained merely an ideal.

Of course, however, there were men and women who bought into this Virgin Queen perspective. Mother, for example, is the model Victorian woman who does indeed lay there quietly when Father makes love to her. What is Doctorow saying about Mother? Well, I'm not sure yet because I'm only halfway through the novel.

Have any of you read the book? I'm not very good at dissecting literature because I often read books for the storylines instead of digesting the subject matter. Maybe Ragtime doesn't even mention sex as much as I think it does. Who knows? I'm not proclaiming to be an English professor or anything like that.

All in all, it is a good read and it makes the Metro ride go a lot faster.

This quote from the book made me think. It comes from a part in the book when Father is living in the frigid reaches of the Arctic, waiting for the right time to venture to the North Pole.

"Father kept himself under control by writing in his journal. This was a system too, the system of language and conceptualization. It proposed that human beings, by the act of making witness, warranted times and places for their existence other than the time and place they were living through." (Emphasis added.)

I haven't fully been able to figure out what Doctorow is saying in the last sentence! But it definitely has been food for thought.