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"...fives, tens and twenties literally forgotten ..."

In the opening chapter of J.F. Powers' Morte D'Urban, the author introduces the protagonist Father Urban, a priest of the fictional Order of St. Clement who has a rather flexible relationship with the traditional vow of poverty.
As a Clementine, he possessed nothing, and the cassock he wore around the Novitiate was pocketless - St. Clement of Blois, the Holy Founder of the Order, having regarded pockets rather than money as the root of all evil - but Father Urban was away from the Novitiate most of the time, and while he was away his pockets filled up. Nevertheless, he was true to his vow of poverty - to the spirit, though, rather than the letter. For someone in his position, it could not very well be otherwise. Always, after an accounting at the Novitiate, there would be a surplus: not Mass stipends, which had to be turned in and processed, but personal gifts from grateful laymen and understanding pastors, fives, tens and twenties literally forgotten among Father Urban's effect or prudently held out because traveling first-class cost so much more than a tight-fisted bursar could be expected to make allowances for without losing respect for himself and his job.
I particularly like the term "tight-fisted bursar" - I'm envisioning a craggy, green-visored old man rolling his eyes at the latest expense report submitted. Coming in, I was hoping this book would be a more subtle cousin to Elmer Gantry, and I'm encouraged so far.

September 26, 2013 in Books | Permalink


I'd read a couple of Powers' novels, but not this one. I'd always meant to though. Maybe I will someday.

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Sep 26, 2013 6:05:23 PM

This one won the National Book Award in 1963. But I've heard that his short stories are even better - NYRB Classics published an omnibus of three of his story collections. That will be the next Powers book I'll read.

Posted by: Pete at Sep 27, 2013 10:25:08 AM