978-0-8112-1296-0 / 9780811212960

The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale


Publisher:New Directions



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About the book:

Published in 1974 and inspired by Watergate, Muriel Spark's Abbess of Crewe is much more amusing and infinitely drier. It transpires that Alexandra, the title character, has bugged and videotaped the Abbey--except for the confessionals and chapel--with electronic "devices fearfully and wonderfully beyond the reach of a humane vocabulary." After her only rival decamps for London and the arms of a Jesuit, police and newspapers swoop in. All the while, the Abbess (an adherent of Machiavelli, The Art of War, and the Modernist poets) keeps her cool, sacrificing her confederates as necessary and trying to assure herself of helicopter-hopping Gertrude's loyalty. (Gertrude is off curing cannibals of their customs and calls in occasionally from places whose unpronounceable names will soon be replaced by other equally unpronounceable names.) Spark's nuns on the run are more than stand-ins for the sweaty American President and his operatives; the satire extends to Anglo-snobbism and -Catholicism. The Abbess explains to the Pope that "electronic surveillance (even if a convent were one day to practise it) does not differ from any other type of watchfulness, the which is a necessity of a Religious Community; we are told in the Scriptures 'to watch and to pray,' which is itself a paradox."

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