Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2020: SCANDAL, Pt. 1 – Overview

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2020: SCANDAL, except where noted.]
[Right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 45+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. My summaries of L.Q., ‘edits’ as Lewis Lapham has called them, continue.]

SCANDAL is here.

My full, digital, online reproduction, at least. Print copy could be sitting in my mailbox, surrounded by 6+ inches of wet spring snow, or still en route in our currently slowed, self-isolating world. [Print has arrived.]

With Time On My Side, let’s take a virtual leaf through the issue and see what it looks like.

COVER: Aquamanile in the Form of Aristotle and Phyllis. The Met Museum: “An aquamanile is a vessel for pouring water used in the ritual of washing hands in both religious and secular contexts—by the priest before Mass and in a private household before a meal.”


The Voices In Time sections this issue are Smoke, Fire, and Ash. (!) Where there is smoke there is fire, and soon to be ash.

A sampling of authors are Anton Chekhov, Mark Twain (always an L.Q. favorite, and mine), Theophrastus (I’ll be looking up that one), Machiavelli, George Eliot, Shakespeare, and Oscar Wilde (ever the wit), to name a very few.

Notably, The Preamble this issue is by a guest writer, instead of founder/editor Lewis Lapham. It says L.L. will return next issue. BUT, there is an Endnote essay by Mr. Lapham at the end of the issue, unprecedented to my recollection. It is ‘From an essay first published as a Notebook column in the November 1997 issue of Harper’s Magazine.’ We will get to it later.

I suspect this issue will find parallels with Winter 2011: Celebrity. We hoi polloi are nothing if not drooling and ravenous for scandal amongst those of who we idolize and are jealous. Perhaps Spring 2015: Swindle & Fraud, too, will relate.

AMONG THE CONTRIBUTORS has comments, under a picture of each, on 19 authors in the issue. “After a funeral attended by only four people, the remains of the English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) were buried beneath the floor of the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral; her gravestone made no mention of her writing. Fifty-five years later, a brass plaque alluding to her books was set beside her grave.” (p. 8)

This is followed, as always, by THE MAP, a two-page graphic representation of a theme-related topic. This issue it is ‘When You Gotta Go, Places to lie low after causing a scandal’, by long-time artist Haisam Hussein.

“Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for sympathizing with native tribes, Puritan theologian Roger Williams spends the winter of 1636 with the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. In the spring he founds the town of Providence on land purchased from the Narragansett.” (p. 10)

THE PREAMBLE is Hidden Agendas by Ron Rosenbaum.

SIDE-QUOTES proliferate throughout the entire issue. Examples:

“Few slanders can stand the wear of silence.” –Mark Twain

“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.” —Margaret Mitchell, 1936

“Never make a defense or apology before you be accused.” –Charles I, 1636

“The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.” —Virginia Woolf, 1921 [?!?!]

“Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification.” –John Donne, c. 1629

“The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.” –Salvador Dali’, 1953

“In the country gossip is a pastime; in the city it is a warfare.” —W.M.L. Jay, 1870

And on and on.

Quality reproductions of quality art and photos also proliferate. Essays and art are meticulously indexed at the end of the issue.

[As an aside, for context, m’lady and I are barely a few weeks into self-isolation, to prevent catching COVID-19. ‘Prisoner’ allusions come to mind. The Prisoner of Zenda. The Man In The Iron Mask. The Count of Monte Cristo? Scandalous.]



“Ron Rosenbaum is the author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil; The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups…”

“In taking up this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, cast aside the notion that scandal requires the presence of celebrities. Yes, scandal may involve celebrities, but all too often scandals about people famous for being famous amount to little more than insipid self-promotion.” (p. 13)

I still say celebrities are our primary source of scandal food. But there are other sources. Rosenbaum discusses ‘posture photos’ taken at some Ivy League schools from the 40’s through the 60’s, an expose’ he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 1995.

“In hindsight I find a goodly portion of my magazine writing over the past five decades has focused on scandal.”

“…the most notorious was the story of the nude-posture-photo practice that plagued Ivy League and Seven Sisters colleges, as well as other prestigious schools across America, from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The scandal was this: for more than twenty years, first-year students at elite schools had been photographed naked, or nearly so—women at Wellesley were allowed to keep their underwear on.The practice had been sold as science to cred- ulous elite institutions by W.H. Sheldon, a believer in the pseudoscience of eugenics (promoted before World War II by Nazi “master race” theorists). Sheldon, who directed an institute for physique studies at Columbia University, had a theory that he could determine personality from what was loosely called “posture”— actually bodily measurement ratios—that would reduce human nature to a matter of mathematics.” (p. 14)

“Not only did the uncovered scandal involve thousands of photographs of naked teenagers, some of whom became prominent adults (George H.W. Bush and Hillary Rodham among them), but it masked a hidden agenda involving eugenic pseudoscience.” (p. 15)

Eventually the program was shut down and some 75,000 photos destroyed.

I suspect this issue will be titillating and entertaining, at least to those of us with moderately voyeuristic interest. Not you and me, of course.

We shall see.

Samson and Delilah, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1530.
The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

7 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2020: SCANDAL, Pt. 1 – Overview

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