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The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
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The Abbess of Crewe (original 1974; edition 1974)

by Muriel Spark

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3441345,617 (3.59)25
Member:Schmerguls
Title:The Abbess of Crewe
Authors:Muriel Spark
Info:The Viking Press (1974), Paperback, 106 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:british fiction, 20th century fiction, Watergate

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The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (1974)

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English (12)  Spanish (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
The Abbess of Crewe is a Firbankian romp set in a Benedictine religious community in England, which rather bizarrely turns out to be a satire of Nixon and the Watergate scandal. The nuns have to elect a successor to the late Abbess Hildegard, and the two main candidates are Sister Felicity, who stands for love, peace and needlework, and doesn't take the vow of chastity quite literally, and Sister Alexandra, who runs the sisters' electronics laboratory and has an unrivalled collection of incriminating tape recordings. When a couple of Jesuit novices are commissioned to break into the sewing-room in search of documents and they overreach themselves by stealing Sister Felicity's silver thimble, it becomes hard to keep the resulting scandal out of the papers.

There's also a Kissinger-like nun, Sister Gertrude, who trots the globe propagating the faith through the little tribal wars she organises in remote countries, and Sister Alexandra turns out to have a fatal weakness for English poetry - in the end it's a provocative citation from Milton that is responsible for losing her the support of the Roman Curia. So a lot of fun, some clever wordplay, but not a huge amount of substance. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jan 10, 2018 |
I'm not sure why Spark thought it was a good idea to replay Watergate in a convent. Not recommended. ( )
1 vote amanda4242 | Dec 3, 2015 |
Not as much fun as Aiding & Abetting or A Far Cry From Kensington, but still fun and quirky. I was disappointed that it didn't have more of a destination, plot-wise, but enjoyed it nonetheless. ( )
  MizPurplest | Sep 21, 2015 |
The Abbess continues evenly, “The more scandal there is from this point on the better. We are truly moving in a mythological context. We are the actors; the press and the public are the chorus.'

I was in primary school at the time of the Watergate scandal, and the first time I read this book the only character whose real-life counterpart I recognised was Sister Alexandra's (Richard Nixon). This time it occurred to me that Sister Gertrude might be Henry Kissenger, and Google told me that this was a correct guess, but even though I also found out who some of the other nuns were based on, I don't know enough about Watergate to see how the actions of those characters relate to what actually happened. It's still a great read though. ( )
  isabelx | Jun 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind...

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

From W B Yeats, 'Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen'
Dedication
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'What is wrong, Sister Winifrede,' says the Abbess, clear and loud to the receptive air, 'with the traditional keyhole method?'
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Book description
An election has been held at the Abbey of Crewe. The new Lady Abbess takes up her high office with implacable serenity. She expected to win one way or the other.

But her defeated rival has not lost gracefully. She alleges electoral chicanery, and the scandal-scenting media swing into righteous action. Meanwhile in every corner of the beseiged convent (not forgetting the poplars which line the Avenue of Meditation) hidden microphones silently record successful layers of cover-ups, put-ons and pay-offs. It is a situation not without its echoes....

With cold efficiency Sister Walburga, the prioress, and Sister Mildred, the novice mistress, ('Two of the finest nuns I have ever had the privilege to know') have made the Abbey hum like a kind of Gregorian dynamo; Sister Winifrede, possessor of 'a mind where no dawn breaks', runs the errands ('The scandal stops at Sister Winifrede,' says the Abbess); Sister Gertrude is forever abroad, processing miracles of ecumenical reconciliation and reporting to the Abbess via the green telephone.

Parallel after parallel slides wickedly into place as Muriel Spark's hilarious new novel transfigures a marvellously telling satire into a luminous and universal parable.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0811212963, Paperback)

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."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Abbess of Crewe is Muriel Spark's razor sharp, wickedly humorous and surreal satire of a real life political scandal - reimagined within the claustrophobic walls of a convent. A steely, Machiavellian nun, secret surveillance, corruption, cloak-and-dagger plotting, rivalries and a rigged election all send the wonderful cast of characters into disarray as a chain of events unfold that become weirder and weirder.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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