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The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale Paperback – 2 Aug 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 108 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (2 Aug. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811212963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811212960
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 1 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 590,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

An elegant fable about intrigue, corruption, and electronic surveillance, 'The Abbess of Crewe' (1974) is set in an English Benedictine convent. Steely and silky Abbess Alexandra has bugged the convent, and rigged her election. But the cat gets out of the bag, and--plunged into scandal--the serene Abbess faces a Vatican inquiry.

About the Author

The writer of some of the best sentences in English (The New Yorker), Muriel Spark (1918 2006) was the author of dozens of novels including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, and The Driver s Seat. She became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Oct. 2002
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is rightly described as a satirical fantasy. The reader may benefit by Googling "A typical day at the Monastery Benedictine nuns of Holy Trinity ..." This describes the daily timetable for prayers, from Vigils (06.00) to Compline(20.15).

The Abbess Hildegarde is newly dead ... and the Abbey is waiting for the new Abbess to be elected. Alexandra, the Sub Prioress is determined to win ...

Meanwhile Sister felicity jumps from her window on to the haycart pulled up below and runs to meet her Jesuit from the nearby Monastery.

"They can't possibly know the sewing room is bugged".

These extracts should arouse enough curiosity to read the book.
It's a scream!
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I read 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' years go and enjoyed it very much, but have read nothing else by the author. Aware of her strong reputation, I thought it was time to try another - unfortunately this one let me down with a bump and I am now reluctant to give her another chance. I know the story is supposedly a satire on Nixon's White House and the Watergate tapes, but setting the book in a convent or nunnery seemed rather a far-fetched idea and for satire I thought there was a distinct lack of humour. Maybe it's of more appeal to Roman Catholics.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this sly, crafty, incisive little book. It is extremely enjoyable to read, and not just because of it's comic moments (which are plentiful). A lot of the enjoyment is just pure glee at Spark's imagination and creativity with language. She is writing at a moment in history (post-Watergate) when the possibilities of electronic surveillance are in the public mind. So she fuses this subject with the ultimate surveillancer: God. Or rather, His representatives at Crewe Abbey. At the same time (1974), the hippie era had come to an end, and Peace and Free Love had not proved to be 'all you need'. So Spark also draws this theme into this novella.

This is not a parody of 'real' religious communities, as I see it. It's definitely not an anti-religious book. It's a book very much about people: their parochial concerns; power corrupted, ego-driven, snobbish and high-handed.

One community is in schism: a popular young nun has gathered around her a clique under her banner of Free Love. So popular is she becoming that the recently open position of Abbess of the convent is feared to be within her grasp. So her main competitor (and her superior in several senses) decides to enlist the aid of electronic surveillance equipment - made in the Abbey's admired workshops - to listen in to all the nuns' conversations...

This book is as mildly surreal and somewhat Gothic as it sounds - there is a magical realism at play here years before that form became a cause celebre. But it is not so surreal as to be hallucinatory or ridiculous. Spark is very clever at keeping everything just within the bounds of feasibility, so that you just marvel at her originality and playfulness.

If you enjoyed Hilary Mantel's 'Fludd' you will definitely enjoy this book.
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By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
Sharp as a knife and crackling with wit, wickedness and delight, and just over a hundred pages long, The Abbess of Crewe is an essential read. The austere and beautiful Alexandra is set upon becoming Abbess when the present incumbent dies - and just how far she is prepared to go to get her wish is demonstrated forthwith. She has a rival, but the esteemed Alexandra and her allies have weapons of surveillance that make Watergate look like child's play.

This is, in fact, Watergate with nuns as the subtitle suggests (A wicked satire on Watergate), with, on the tapes, `poetry deleted' in place of Nixon's `expletive deleted'. The media is much titillated when a nun is expelled after being accused of dallying with a Jesuit priest, and from there on this clever little farce unfolds. This artfully constructed novella is an exercise in spiteful charm from beginning to end. Four stars only, however, because as satire it only goes so far and Watergate is too large and complex a phenomenon to be addressed solely by artful flippancy.
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