Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Temptation Rag: A Novel

“The only reason I allowed you into my home this afternoon is because I wanted to tell you how much I despise you. I wanted to say all the things I’ve kept inside for so long. Things I’ve allowed to literally make me ill. But I’m finished with that now. I’ve finally realized that you were never, ever worth it.”

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 black musical theater, an unforgettable cast of real-life characters populates this richly-fictionalized historical saga.

Temptation Rag is the second historical novel by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, who says about the book:

“I was a performing and touring musician for nearly a decade, so I took on this project already understanding a lot about music and the life of a musician. Through my husband’s family connection to the legendary Mike Bernard—who won the title ‘Ragtime King of the World’ in 1900 and was the first solo ragtime pianist to record for Columbia Records—I had access to information and official documents not previously reported. I also had the honor and pleasure of comparing research with ragtime scholars, who generously shared their knowledge with me and, fortunately, were willing to accept that imaginative fiction-writing is quite different from scholarly writing.

“While Temptation Rag started out as a book inspired by my husband’s grandfather, it ended up as a fictionalized historical saga with significance far beyond any single individual. The story of ragtime in America can’t be told without also telling the story of African American music and its influence on American culture. I want readers to feel immersed in the ragtime era, to feel as if they have gotten to know some of the real-life characters who populated vaudeville and African American musical theater in New York City from 1895-1929, and to understand the frustration of black musicians struggling for recognition at a crossroads in America’s musical history.”