The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro

published 1979 - collection also appears under the name Who Do You Think You Are?

She thought people stared at her, recognizing a stranger. Some men in a car yelled at her. She saw her own reflection in store windows and understood that she looked as if she wanted to be stared at and yelled at.

She was wearing black velvet toreador pants, a tight-fitting high-necked black sweater and a beige jacket which she slung over her shoulder, though there was a chilly wind. She who had once worn full skirts and soft colors, babyish angora sweaters, scalloped necklines, had now taken to wearing dramatic sexually advertising clothes. The new underwear she had on at this moment was black lace and pink nylon. In the waiting room at the Vancouver airport she had done her eyes with heavy mascara, black eyeliner, and silver eyeshadow; her lipstick was almost white. All this was a fashion of those years and so looked less bizarre than it would seem later, but it was alarming enough. The assurance with which she carried such a disguise fluctuated considerably.

observations: The announcement that Alice Munro had won the Nobel Prize for Literature was one that many people had been expecting for some time, and her collections of short stories are widely praised. I have always found it easier to admire her for the precision of her writing than to love her work. However I was delighted to find out, from the background articles on her award, that she was one of the founders of the wonderful Munro’s bookstore in Victoria on Vancouver Island, a really lovely shop.

Munro has some great observations:
She was flirting, indulging herself, as girls that age will do. They will try out charm on anything, on dogs or cats or their own faces in the mirror.

And, at university around 1950:
It seemed to be the rule that girl scholarship winners looked about 40 and boys about 12.

Rose (above) is the protagonist and Flo her stepmother: Flo is a complex character, mean to Rose, but also warning her about White Slavers, and telling her about the world. Although this book – which probably first brought Munro to prominence in the UK, when it was Booker-nominated in 1980 – is subtitled ‘Stories of Flo and Rose’, many of the stories are just about Rose, and I found them (in 1980) cold-hearted and self-obsessed. My opinion didn’t change when I re-read them this week. I also (alerted to the trope by an Angela Carter interview – Carter was, I think, talking about Anita Brookner) do not take to stories in which heroines prepare food for men who then don’t turn up.

Toreador pants featured in this entry; there may be a subtle difference between toreadors and capris, I’m not sure, but you can look at some nice pictures while you decide in this entry.

The picture is from Wikimedia Commons. 


  1. It takes an award or a milestone to make me (re)discover an author, like Alice Munro. I don't remember if I have read anything by her.

    1. The awards usually come after years of writing, so you have to try to think back if you encountered this author along the way....


Post a Comment