‘The Beggar Maid’ by Alice Munro

Munro was the first writer I found who described romantic relationships with the accuracy I needed – she gave me words with which to understand my own experiences. I have found more writers like this since, thank god, but she remains far and away the best. If I ever do a PhD, it’ll be on her. In ‘The Beggar Maid’, Patrick, a young, handsome academic falls in love with Rose, the protagonist, who loves him back sometimes and at other times can’t stand him. Rose’s inner life and the dialogue feel so truthful, and it’s this which makes me always come back to Munro. She sees the complexities of relationships so clearly, and the intensity of her characters’ emotions is never misplaced. Everything feels absolutely real. She’s a genius and I think one of the best writers to read if you want to learn to write relationships properly. Give her the Nobel. Oh, wait.

First published in The New Yorker, June 1977, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Who Do You Think You Are, Macmillan, 1978, and also in No Love Lost, 2003 and Selected Stories Vol 1, Vintage, 1997/2021

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