‘The Beggar Maid’ by Alice Munro

This is my favourite short story. I’ve re-read it several times. It ‘opened up’ to me because it seemed that it was written for me. Or, perhaps, it speaks to most women in their early twenties, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask. In a sense, it’s a story about uncertainty, about navigating important choices while not knowing whether they are the right ones. Munro carefully describes the smallest event and allows its effects to ripple through the story. In this case, the event is someone touching the protagonist’s bare leg in the library. This leads to absolutely everything else, until the final, small yet momentous event – an expression – completes the piece.

First published in The New Yorker, June 27 1977. Collected in Who Do You Think You Are? Macmillan, 1978 – later reissued as The Beggar Maid – and also collected in Selected Stories, Vintage, 2010

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