When we first sat through our read-through of Ragtime, as catchy as all the songs were “Crime of the Century” was the song that was stuck in my head all week. When I went through the list of characters again, I realized that I had seen the name Evelyn Nesbit before. She was one of the many cultural figures I learned about in A.P. US History a looong time ago in my sophomore year of high school. I remembered her as the inspiration for the famous Gibson Girl figure which was the pinnacle of femininity at the turn of the century. However, in high school we did not learn about this scandalous “swing” she sat on or her affairs with architects and millionaires.
I find Evelyn’s scandal interesting because instead of being a fallen woman for having a salacious affair she became quite famous from it. It is an interesting contrast between Sarah who is chastised for having a baby out of wedlock and Mother who is looked down upon for taking in Sarah and her baby. All three women are involved in scandal, but Evelyn’s is the one that seemed to come out positive– at first. She becomes famous from her trials and had stints on vaudeville and parts in silent films, but it is recorded that later she attempted suicide multiple times and was addicted to morphine and alcohol. Ragtime just has her singing, “Oh justice isn’t fair” and that she faded into obscurity, but there is more than that. She experienced hardship too. Her “weee”s make her story a little more of a fluff piece added to the heavy trials and tribulations of Sarah, Mother, and even Emma, but she was a woman that experienced trauma too. “Ruined at the age of 15!” is said with a cheeky smile on stage, but in real life she could have been drugged and raped.
I guess I just find it a little sad that Evelyn’s story is not fully explained – including her activity in Ragtime the novel. But I do understand that there is only so much you can put into a 3 hour musical with over 40 characters on stage.