The Magazine

People and Adultery

The taint on a magazine's "greatest love stories."

Apr 29, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 32 • By JAY NORDLINGER
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To find the old values--the judging of righteous judgment--even in high places, one might look to South Africa, where Nelson Mandela has distinguished himself as perhaps never before in his long career of moral example. Last month, he stood in court, erect and unflinching, and did what he had dearly wanted to avoid: ask for a divorce from Winnie Mandela. Through everything, he had stood by her--had even believed her when she claimed she was innocent of kidnapping and torture--but one thing he could not abide, and that was her "brazen infidelity." "If the entire universe tried to persuade me to reconcile with the defendant"--he would not utter her name throughout the proceeding--"I would not." He had not wanted to reveal his wife's adultery, but was moved to do so when she represented to the nation that the divorce was for other reasons. It was not. It was only for one, and when Mandela stood rock-like on principle, he, not for the first time, made the rest of the world look Lilliputian.

Many social observers in America predict another "awakening," or contend that even now one is underway. Still, it seems unlikely that adultery will regain the infamy it merits anytime soon. The few who bring it up are still regarded as freaks by respectable society. Suggest that Martin Luther King's faithlessness to his wife diminishes his heroism, despite his accomplishments in the public realm, and you will be treated, if not with indignant disbelief, with pity, as one would respond to a retarded child. The same is true of FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ--and of the exalted lovers of People magazine. Who, after all, has heard of Sybil Burton? Of Louise Tracy? Of the first Mrs. Sinatra? Of the "reluctant" Mrs. Gable? But there they are, or were: silent accusers, tear-stained witnesses, rebuking those who forsook them and sobering those who would pause to remember.

Jay Nordlinger is associate editor of The Weekly Standard.