THE ABBESS OF CREWE
It is Muriel Spark’s birthday and I just re-read this so it seems apropos to write about it, too. I just re-read it for the obvious reason that it was inspired by the shenanigans of an impeached president and now we have another impeached ‘president’ who proves just as mendacious and even more offensive.
Spark is the opposite of this in every way so what a delight to dive into her words for any excuse. Of course the book is funny: Spark is always funny — and witty and sharply observant and completely singular. It’s all about wire taps and love letters and a stolen thimble. But above all it is about power and narrative.
I notice much more her Scottishness in ways that weren’t apparent before in my ignorance. And I know a lot more of the poetry that the Abbess quotes often — mostly decidedly secular of course! though often evoked by prayers and hymns — which back in the day I was far more ignorant about. So playful, so fun:
What a piece of work is her convent, how distant in its newness from all the orthodoxies of the past, how far removed in all its antiquities from those of the present!
The ages of the Father and of the Son are past. We have entered the age of the Holy Ghost. The wind bloweth where it listeth and it listeth most certainly on the Abbey of Crewe.
Here, in the Abbey of Crewe, we have discarded history. We have entered the sphere, dear Sisters, of mythology.
“[The Americans] appear to be amused and rather shocked, of course, by the all-pervading bitchiness in this country.” “I dare say,” says the Abbess, “This is a sad hour for England in these, the days of her decline.”
There are so many things to delight in from the incongruity of the nuns, their deliberate embrace of antediluvian arts yet at the same time employing sophisticated electronic surveillance, to the world-weary Abbess’ escape into poetry — and her rival Felicity(of course she is)’s free love and ultimate downfall — not for propriety but due to the nuns’ snobbishness.
Any crime can be forgiven of a Romantic heroine — except being common.
Our revels now are ended. Be still, be watchful.