The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

by Alice Munro

Paperback, 1991

Call number





Vintage (1991), Edition: Reissue, 210 pages


Born into the back streets of a small Canadian town, Rose battled incessantly with her practical and shrewd stepmother, Flo, who cowed her with tales of her own past and warnings of the dangerous world outside. But Rose was ambitious- she won a scholarship and left for Toronto where she married Patrick. She was his Beggar Maid, 'meek and voluptuous, with her shy white feet', and he was her knight, content to sit and adore her- Alice Munro's wonderful collection of stories reads like a novel following Rose's life as she moves away from her impoverished roots and forges her own path in the world.

User reviews

LibraryThing member archipelago6
This is one of those books that I will go back to for the rest of my life. I first read it in my early 20s, and since then I have been picking it up and reading bits of it whenever I needed a lift. If I make it to old age, this will be one of the books that I bring to the nursing home with me.

I love how these stories follow Rose through the course of her life - from childhood beatings through to affairs, divorce, children, and middle age. Munro is fantastic at creating plot within each story, but also on a larger scale throughout the collection. Her writing is beautiful and she is a brilliant psychologist and philosopher making so many astute statements about life and people. I love how everyday moments and details become so revealing and important in her work. I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member williecostello
This is a fantastic short story collection, and a striking exhibition of Munro's remarkable talent. The book's ten stories all revolve around a single main character, but should not be confused for ten chapters of a novel. Rather, the stories feel more like a selection of snapshots of a single life, with plenty of empty space left in between. That is, what we find in this book is not any grand story arc, but rather acute observations of a person at various moments in her life. It is a powerful fictional medium, and one in which Munro excels.

The stories I enjoyed most were "Mischief", "Providence", "Simon's Luck", and the titular "Who Do You Think You Are?"... but that probably says more about me and my penchant for Munro's portrayals of love than about the stories' own merits. Really, it feels like this collection, like life, has something in it for everyone. Every reader would do well to pick up this book and see what they find.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
Interconnected short stories of Flo and Rose by Canadian author. Story set in Canada. A work of feminist literature. While I am not crazy about feminist literature and i do enjoy works that show aging.
LibraryThing member amyfaerie
A wonderful collection of linked short stories. I think it's Munro's best work.
LibraryThing member papercat
The Beggar Maid is a series of short stories, originally published separately but all following the life of one central character, Rose.

Rose comes from a poor background and the book begins with her growing up in a small, ramshackle town in Canada during the 1940s and ‘50s. She has a difficult relationship with her stepmother, Flo, and they are always arguing. Flo is bold and practical and adventurous, she ran away from home when she was fourteen and worked in a factory and as a waitress in the city. As a teenager, Rose is clever and awkward and just as stubborn as Flo is. She spends her time studying and dreaming, and manages to leave her deprived background behind her by winning scholarships to the high school and then to college.

The book beautifully describes Rose’s experiences at school and in a town full of gossip, where everyone knows your business and is ready to form a judgement about it. The book captures the positive and negative sides of a small community. Some people who are vulnerable and don’t fit in suffer abuse and violence, while some eccentric and odd characters such as Milton Homer, who disrupts all the town parades with his dancing, are tolerated with affection. In later life, Rose returns to the town and it is interesting to see her conflicting feelings towards it. She has come too far ever to really fit in again, but I feel there is also a sense of sadness and nostalgia in the book for how the town has changed, modernised and become respectable, and for what has become of some of the characters over the years.

At college, Rose meets Patrick, a scholarly man from a wealthy family, who falls in love with her. The title of the book comes from a conversation between them in which Patrick says he is glad Rose is poor and that she reminds him of the painting King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, reflecting Patrick’s romanticised view of Rose. One of the things I liked about this book was how it precisely described Rose’s experiences of feeling like an outsider. It acknowledges her complicated feelings towards her past and the way she makes use of it, telling scandalous stories to people who find her poverty glamorous.

Although her fortunes rise and fall over the course of the book, Rose does go on to live a much more comfortable life and moves in more educated and middle-class circles than she did in her childhood. However she often feels somewhat separate from the people around her, seeing in herself ‘the weariness, suppleness, deviousness, meanness common to a class’. This book explores the alienation or sense of detachment felt by someone who can’t reconcile their past with their present very well, mainly because of Alice Munro’s writing, which is quite precise and analytical, focusing on the complexity of people’s feelings and experiences, but not at all cold as it also conveys emotions very strongly. It reminded me slightly of I’ll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates, which is an amazing book, also about a girl’s life at college, and a similarly intense experience.

The Beggar Maid is also very much about sexual attraction, marriage and infidelity. Rose frequently treats Patrick badly and their relationship is unbalanced, especially because Patrick adores Rose so much and she takes advantage of this.
Rose does later fall in love herself and the book describes relationships and feelings of desire and obsession very powerfully. I would now really like to read more of Alice Munro’s books.
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LibraryThing member grheault
Short stories set across the years, focused on the lives of two women, this is a novel in a peculiar form which I like very much. When I recall The Beggar Maid, read several months ago, I see it in sepia. I see it in the late 40's, a general store, narrow brick houses with steep pitched roofs, little towns in rural Ontario. Scrappy people, making ends meet, going to the big city Toronto, and beyond. Flo is the wisecracking stepmother, and Rose is the stubborn child, and father is set between them. Reading these vignettes is like sitting around the table after a funeral, looking through a picture album of family photos spanning several decades, with oldsters telling stories about what was going on back then, and the rest of us listening. Well done. These are my kind of people.… (more)
LibraryThing member vanpelten
In this series of interweaving stories, Munro recreates the evolving bond between two women in the course of almost forty years. One is Flo, practical, suspicious of other people's airs, at times dismayingly vulgar. the other is Rose, Flo's stepdaughter, a clumsy, shy girl who somehow leaves the small town she grew up in to achieve her own equivocal success in the larger world.

Rose and her stepmother, Flo, live in Hanratty-across the bridge from the "good" part of town. Rose, alternately fascinated and appalled by the rude energy of the people around her, grows up nursing her hope of outgrowing her humble beginnings and plotting an escape to university.

Rose makes her escape and thinks herself free. But Hanratty's question Who Do You Think You Are? rings in her ears during her days in Vancouver, mocks her attempts to make her marriage successful, and haunts her new career.

In these stories of Rose and Flo, Alice Munro explores the universal story of growing up-Rose's struggle to accept herself tells the story of our lives.
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LibraryThing member Hebephrene
As others have pointed out, this the book where Munro taught herself the style that made her who she is as a writer. The work is not as polished as later stories but the essence of Munro's approach is here, the fascination with contradiction in character, the generosity towards difficult contrarian personalities, the ambivalence towards the lost eden which wasn't eden at all. These are linked stories told by a close third narrator that favors Rose, the girl who left Hanratty, the small town where she lived under the rule of her eccentric step mother Flo while upstairs her father died. Flo is immaculate as a character and it is her strong presence that allows the stories to jump in time and location, because it only takes Flo opening her mouth for us to be returned to the through line. The themes of loneliness, of a fragile minutely observed identity being forged by disappointment, all comes to fruition. But to me the most outstanding story was Wild Swans where Munro has a young girl - Rose of course - traveling by train only to be abused by the priest sitting next to her. She isn't abused, really, but his hand is touching her furtively and the way Munro takes that one moment and explodes to give us everything this girl feels about sex and love and imposition is startling. The capacity for digging deeper into a character - which is what forms so much of Munro - is seen here for the first time (to my knowledge) and like other masterpieces, sets the stage for a whole writing career. It is also why so many writers study Munro and why she continues to amaze in her plain spoken way. Really thrilling to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The novel-from-a-collection-of-short-stories form rarely produces a perfectly satisfying novel as such. Inevitably the stories vary somewhat in tone and effect. Some are more immediate, more powerful than others. Some seem to focus on minutiae, while others sweep across time and space. The form is inexact, capricious, unpredictable, and demandingly tentative. How perfect, then, that Alice Munro chooses the form for a character, Rose, who herself is in a constant state of becoming, of self doubt, full of false bravado and troubling anxiety. Rose flits one way and then the next, changing course as quickly as she changes locale (from Ontario to Vancouver and back). But always she is wondering, I suppose, as the title story suggests, who she thinks she is. Her answers vary, sometimes contradict, and ever, ever return her to her childhood in Hanratty, a town in southwestern Ontario.

Rose grows up in hard poverty in West Hanratty. From the royal beating she receives from her father in the first story, “Royal Beatings,” to the airs and persona she takes on at school to her initial plunge into falsehood in marrying a man she knows she does not love in “The Beggar Maid,” Rose is both our focus and our challenge. Munro dotes upon her, perhaps loves her as a character, but she sees her whole, flaws and all. And that honest baring of Rose’s broken sense of self is what holds us, or at least held me, riveted through her false starts at love, her disappointments, and ultimately all the way back to Hanratty, if only as an orbital fly-by. Rose is “of” Hanratty, but not bound to it and her fate, such as it is — and this includes an acknowledgement that possibly all of her actions and choices have been wrong — her fate remains her own.

There is so much here in these ten stories. And yet, you’ll feel like you’ve only just scratched the surface of who Rose is.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Munro is a fabulous storyteller. Her characters and language are absolutely radiant. I really loved this collection/novel and look forward to reading more of her work.
LibraryThing member bodachliath
I had never read Alice Munro before, so I am grateful to The Mookse and the Gripes group's project revisiting the 1980 Booker shortlist.

This book is difficult to categorise, and is somewhere between a short story collection and a novel. I can see why the Booker jury chose to accept it as a novel, because the stories are all episodes in the life of one woman, Rose, and they are arranged in a chronological sequence, but each could equally be read as a self-contained story.

Rose's mother died when she was young, and the dominant figure in the early stories set during her childhood is her stepmother Flo, who runs a shop in a poor district of a small Canadian town. Her education allows her to escape, but the last couple of stories see her sucked back as she deals with Flo in old age.

These are quiet stories with fairly humdrum subject matter, but Munro is a master of telling detail, and the whole adds up to something universal, effective and moving.
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LibraryThing member sidiki
Alice Munro never disappoints. There are times when I am amazed at how beautifully and with such ease she records such subtle mannerisms, traits and behavior of people in certain situations. Her manner of writing and choice of words is remarkable.
LibraryThing member AngieK
I have read this collection about once a year since I discovered it in 2002. It could possibly fall into that category of "favorite book" if I were able to confess to having such a thing.

The Beggar Maid is a collection of short stories about the same characters, Rose and Flo, and if there is one central character it would have to be Rose. It follows Rose from her working-class Canadian childhood through adulthood which includes everything from anonymous suburban marriage and motherhood to being a famous TV personality.

It's hard for me to even say why I love this book so much, except to say it's probably the most real book I have ever read.
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LibraryThing member steller0707
Alice Munro's award-winning book is a set of very loosely, but Chronological stories about Rose, who grows up poor in a small rural Western Ontario town. The stories, which can be read stand-alone but which are satisfying to read in order, are periods in Rose's life -- from her home life with her step-mother Flo and her father, her early school and high school days through marriage, motherhood, divorce, and making a livelihood. Those are the nuts and bolts. In the stories are the hopes, dreams and disappointments of becoming a woman.

I knew I would love this book because Alice Munro is one of my favorite authors. Her settings are of her home in rural Ontario as well as big city life in Toronto. It's a geographic area I know well, from my many wanderings there from my WNY home. These settings are familiar and comfortable. Although Munro is, perhaps, a generation older than I am the customs and mores of coming of age - shopping at Woolworth's, painting fingernail polish so as to leave a half moon at the base, fashions, school - a long forgotten, more innocent time, in some ways, and yet all too familiar. Then there the feelings and emotions that always vividly define Munro's women characters - making her way in work, marriage, motherhood; the complex emotions, the thoughts - all expressed so beautifully. Sometimes it's just a phrase, sometimes a mood. They strike a chord. Are they nostalgic? Yes, in many ways, certainly. But also, I think, universal.
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LibraryThing member sometimeunderwater
Alice Munro can do no wrong at this stage. Another beautifully human book, near flawless.




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