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Comment: Condition: Very good condition., Binding: Trade Paperback. / Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation / Pub. Date: 1995-05 Attributes: Book 106pp / Stock#: 2046242 (FBA) * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale Paperback – May 17, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 106 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (May 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811212963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811212960
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.8 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #846,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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."

From Library Journal

"An odd book, not at all what it seems at first near certainly to be?and a wickedly stimulating one," said LJ's reviewer (LJ 11/1/74) of what many believed to be a parody of the Watergate scandal, with the White House replaced by an abbey and Nixon by the title character.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film. Spark became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
-- unquote the most formidable of my university tutors, declining to follow up my recommendation that he should see The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).
I had the presence of mind to answer 'Well so have I' but not the gall to say to him 'How about you?' Really she only has a 'bad' mind in the sense we all have bad minds -- there are thoughts we do not lightly own up to. What makes Spark so unique is that the thoughts are so diverse and fanciful. She is all over the place in the best sense, she is as light-footed as a Mendelssohn scherzo, and there is never a demeaning touch in all her writing. I never really know where I am with her. She deals with senility (Memento Mori), satanism (The Ballad of Peckham Rye), fascism (Brodie), epilepsy (The Bachelors) and sexual situations too various to list (passim) like the shallop flitting silken-sailed in The Lady of Shalott. They never become issues, they never become themes and there is often an overlay of the outright fantastic, as when Mrs Georgina Hogg in The Comforters, who has no private life, disappears when she closes her bedroom door behind her.
The Abbess gets 4 stars from me because it is one of her slighter efforts compared with the novels mentioned above and certain others. Anyone getting to know Spark's work could start as well with this as with those, or indeed as well with those as with this. If you can get her wavelength at all this book will not 'lose' you as The Hothouse by the East River might do. I have seen it described as 'a wicked satire on Watergate', a plonking, insensitive characterisation -- you do not pin Spark down like that.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on June 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
If this book were written in a serious tone, I fear it could be taken as very offensive slander. Instead, it is a brilliant send-up of Watergate and similar abuses of power. It centers on the election of a new abbess.
Candidate 1 recites her favorite (Protestant) English poetry rather than the Psalms, supports a strong sense of societial class, and uses electronic eavesdropping as a mere extention of listening to convent gossip as a way to maintain proper order.
Candidate 2 is compulsive regarding order in her sewing box, maintains an all-too-public liaison with a young Jesuit (outdoors rather than linen closets), and leads the sewing nuns to dreams of freedom.
Add to this a missionary nun using Machivelli to deal with cannibal and vegetarian tribes, young Jesuits bungling break-ins, a nun cross-dressing to deliver hush money ... and you have an absolutely hilarious study in justification of means to insure one's "destiny".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alex D. Groce on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Muriel Spark's "Watergate novel" transmutes the interesting but often squalid Washington scandal into something better--the Abbess is more sure-footed and considerably more charming than Nixon, imperious and impervious where Nixon was paranoid. As usual, Spark takes the material of life and, well, to put it bluntly, she improves upon it. Of course, this is the task of the true artist, but Spark doesn't soften the blow of discovering just how disordered and unsavory real-life often is--as when she is dispatching her characters to their various fates, she is sharp, sympathetic, and economical. The perfect necessity of every word is the key, I think to Spark's novels.
Literary blathering aside, this is also one of Muriel Spark's funniest books, which makes it doubly wonderful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Wingchair Critic on January 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Muriel Spark's 'The Abbess Of Crewe' (1973) is a brief comic meditation on the forms and abuses of power in the Anglo Saxon world. Partially inspired by the events and the political repercussions of Watergate, 'The Abbess of Crewe' transposes the narrative to a Catholic convent in England, where a small cabal of elitist nuns, blinded by power and a foolish faith in their own impervious superiority, has seized control of the abbey through a startling and inventive series of Machiavellian maneuvers.

The novel is complexly shaded, and thus mischievous Alexandra, the abbess of the title, and her scheming cohorts, Walburga and Mildred, are the novel's protagonists despite their gross cruelty and self-centeredness.

Looking forward to today's world of continuous public video surveillance, Alexandra and her inner circle have, regardless of the fact that the convent observes medieval standards, wired the entire facility so that there is no place in which the other nuns cannot be eavesdropped upon or monitored. Hilariously, the abbess and her inner circle enjoy pate and champagne in their sumptuously decorated observation room, while the rank and file members of the order, whom they privately hold in gleeful contempt, endure meals of hot water, boiled nettles, and cat food without complaint or awareness.

Spark is unsparing in her depiction of both Alexandra's sense of superiority, which approaches the predestined, and the mindless idiocy and gullibility of the common nuns in the pew, who clearly represent the average man, ripe for manipulation, exploitation, and programming.
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