Reading Note:
Fun Stuff
Muriel Spark’s The Abbess of Crewe

It’s actually rather refreshing not be entirely on the qui vive where Muriel Spark’s bizarre hommage to Watergate, The Abbess of Crewe, is concerned. I really don’t want to know! Don’t want to trace the connections among the references! Having put the book down only to wonder if Walburga is Ehrlichman and Mildred Haldeman or the other way round is nightmare enough. At the remove of over thirty-five years, I’m not going to spin an inch of exegesis: I’d only trip on it and break my neck.

Rather more frustrating: I haven’t been able to find a juicy-red quotation from fiction by Ivy Compton-Burnett — imagine Oscar Wilde come back as Florence Bates — that would prepare the ground for saying how very much the following sportif passage reminds me of her (Ivy Compton-Burnett, that is, not Florence Bates).

“It is useless to tell me not to worry,” the Abbess says, “since I never do. Anxiety is for the bourgeoisie and for great artists in those hours when they are neither asleep nor practising their art. An aristocratic soul feels no anxiety nor, I think, do the famine-stricken of the world as they endure the impotent extremities of starvation. I don’t know why it is, but I ponder on starvation and the starving. Sisters, let me tell you a secret. I would rather sink fleshless to my death into the dry soil of some African or Indian plain, dead of hunger with the rest of the dying skeletons than go, as I hear Felicity is now doing, to a psychiatrist for an anxiety-cure.”

Such literary revels! Alexandra, the slender, obelisk Abbess of Crewe, dances, to taped music, a triangular quadrille with her very anti-type, Richard Milhous Nixon, and his political heir, the lady groceress of Grantham.

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