The Lewinsky Scandal

It’s an inexpensive tote in some autumnal print, with a gold-tone heart on it.
“Fall and winter, right?” Now watch. Heidi reaches inside and turns the whole thing inside out, presenting a totally different bag, light colored and floral.
“Spring and summer! it’s convertible! you get twofer, see?”
“How inventive. A bipolar bag.”
“And well then ofcourse its a piece of living history also.”
Down in one corner Maxine reads

“A Monica Lewinsky original. Tough call, but I’d err on the side of good taste is timeless” (Pynchon 213).

In the excerpt above, Pynchon references the well-known Monica Lewinsky. The term fashion designer is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when her name is brought up. As a child, I remember the name being broadcasted across every news station for a great deal of time. Later, I discovered her widespread fame came from her apparent affair with Bill Clinton, the president of the United States at the time. Lewinsky was an intern working in the White House during the time she was reported to have inappropriate relations with the president. The affair was discovered and former president Bill Clinton denied having relations with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton stated to the public, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” However, he later admitted to having inappropriate relations with Lewinsky. His lies about the affair contributed to him being called into federal court. The House made a decision and, “the judiciary committee approved three articles of impeachment. On December 19, 1998 the House impeached Clinton . . . Five weeks later, on February 12, 1999 the senate voted on whether to remove Clinton from office. The president was acquitted on both articles of impeachment. The prosecution needed a two thirds majority to convict but failed to achieve even a bare majority” (“President Clinton Impeached” 2015).

After the affair, five or so years later, Lewinsky had decided to start a new handbag company, The Real Monica Inc. Her hippie-chic handbags were sold in stores in NY, CA and online. The location where Carmine bought Heidi’s handbag happened to be in Manhattan, NY at Bendel’s. By further investigation, I discovered Monica was selling the bags online. This was essential for Lewinsky’s business. Lewinsky announced, “we decided that the Web would really be the best place to start . . . We have a 24-hour store, in every city, in every state, in every country in the world. And we’ve had sales all over the world” (Elin, 2000).

It is true that her infamous name is what attracted so many customers, but also, her website The Real Monica Inc. is what really got her business booming. This happened to be around the same time the bubble began to thrive when investors were pouring money into Internet start-ups in the late 1990s. Originally, Monica wanted to use for the site but it was already taken so she had to compromise with The Real Monica Inc. (Elin, 2000). Unfortunately, even with her easy to access online website, her handbags failed to catch on in time. Pynchon’s reference to her in this passage is potentially just another failed online business that suffered from the crash.

Nevertheless, Pynchon references Lewinsky and Clinton several times throughout the novel. At times, he addresses them specifically. Other times, he alludes to the affair through use of quotes. The novel takes place only a few years after the affair and the chaotic mess it left behind. The scandalous affair is alluded to when Maxine is in conversation with Shawn. Below is the dialogue portion of their conversation.

“Maxi, it’s time. I reach this point with everybody. What you need to deal with now is The Wisdom.

“No, Shawn”

“Here it is-The Wisdom. Prepare to copy”
“Is what it is is…is it is what it is”
“Got that?”…”Repeat it back”

. . .

“Depending of course what your definition of the word ‘is’ is” (Pynchon 423-424).

The last quote, spoken by Maxine is almost the exact quote Clinton exclaimed to the grand jury when he was being questioned about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. At the time of questioning in the courtroom, Clinton’s argument centered on the definition of the word ‘is.’ He used this argument because the jury’s perception of the word ‘is’ could alter the outcome of his conviction. He was not having sexual relations with Lewinsky during the time he made his statement under oath. Specifically, one juror’s definition of ‘is’ may be—is and never has been. However, another juror’s definition of ‘is’ may be—taking place in the present time. He argues that there is a distinction between ‘is’ and ‘was’ and that he did not lie under oath. By doing this, he claims he had not lied to the jury when he denied having relations with Lewinsky.

Why would Pynchon allude to this scandal? Like any scandal, the Lewinsky scandal had an impact on the U.S. Unlike past presidential scandals, this scandal could be publicized all over the Internet as well as television. Lewinsky’s worldwide degradation was perhaps driven by the presence of the web. Much like DeepArcher, anyone and everyone can log on and voice their opinion on the famous affair. Because of Clinton’s powerful position, Lewinsky was made out to be a scapegoat. Even today, in 2015, Lewinsky is still suffering from humiliation of the affair. The power people have to say whatever they please, whether it be fact or fiction, has increased greatly. The Internet makes it fast and easy to spread an anonymous or deliberate message which is one of Pynchon’s arching themes in Bleeding Edge.


“President Clinton impeached.” 2015. The History Channel website. Feb 20 2015, 2:42

Ellin, Abby. “Business; In Monica’s Story, a Chapter on Entrepreneurship.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 June 2000. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

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4 Responses to The Lewinsky Scandal

  1. tspace22 says:

    I remember reading this passage and being slightly confused as to why Monica Lewinsky had her name on a handbag so I really appreciate your analysis of the reference. It certainly makes sense that the scandal, and Lewinsky’s profile were heightened because of the internet in a why that had not yet been seen in a presidential scandal. I have done research on Clinton’s presidency for another class and the media’s insistent prodding into the personal marriage of the Clinton’s was unheard of before the Lewinsky affair. In a lot of ways, Clinton was the first ‘tabloid president’. It’s kind of ironic that Lewinsky’s profile was raised because of the internet and that she herself later tried to profit off of her notoriety through the very thing that helped make her famous.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. KAK249 says:

    Yes, it is quite ironic. She was very, very deep in debt from all of the legal matters. It is a misconception that she began her business to get wealthy…It was actually to pay her debt.


  3. KeepCalm22 says:

    I find this reference just as comedic and it is informative. It really does show the huge variety of businesses that appeared on the web that had promise but didn’t quite catch on. The Real Monica Inc. is somewhat comparable to While I do question those who wanted a Monica Lewinsky handbag and their reasonings (I would hope it was just for the fact that it’s more of a cultural artifact than anything), it does show how different people can get on the web, voice their opinions, and start a business about just about anything.


  4. Really perceptive catch on the “it depends upon what your definition of the word ‘is’ is.”


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