How does Munro present aspects of Gothic literature in "The Beggar Maid"?
With the American title of "Who Do You Think You Are?" Munro's story finds the reader wondering about the strange characters in her narrative also called "The Beggar Maid," titled after a Pre-Raphelite painting in which a prince marries a beggar.
Despite this romantic allusion, there are elements of the Gothic in Munro's story:
- Fog and obscurity/Preternatural forces
Certainly, the class backgrounds of Rose and Patrick create a fog that initiates the obfuscation of feelings between them as Rose acts strangely because of her self-consciousness of being poor. Further, there is something counterfeit about Rose, who becomes "the damsel in distress" after a strange man grabs her leg in the library, but later in the narrative, she acts the sexual aggressor with Patrick as they play in the snow, touching him and saying things that make him wonder about her feminine virtue. Then, even though she has been sexually aggressive when they romped in the snow, Rose pretends to enjoy herself during their first act together, "she was destroying herself for him."
At the end of the story, Rose looks at those whom she interviews she senses their desire "to make a face" just as Patrick has to her at the end of the story. But these people will not express their feelings with a look as he has done.
A lurid unreal place, the middle of the night, a staggering unhinging weariness, the sudden, hallucinatory appearance of your true enemy
is required. This is the atmosphere at times that prevails over the relationship of Rose and Patrick, that interrupts their happiness. It is almost a preternatural force.
- A Grotesque
At times Rose experiences "the surrender of her helplessness" and later she breaks up with him, speaking viciously to Patrick.
After this, she returns to him because "[T]hey could not separate until enough damage had been done." Oddly, too, there are times when, "without warning, happiness, the possibility of happiness, would surprise them" or Rose would "shiver with irritation and misery." Then, Rose can feel that "this person she was bound to."
Rose is arguably a grotesque; certainly, she is bizarre as she vacillates in feelings and words and actions. As a grotesque character, Rose elicits sympathy and compassion, then scorn and disgust--sometimes simultaneously. For instance, after they are engaged, Rose decides that she does not love Patrick nor want to marry him; so she goes to his apartment where
She wanted to beat and beat him, to say worse and worse, uglier and crueller, things. She took a breath, drew in air, to stop the things she felt rising in her from getting out.
“I don’t want to see you, ever!” she said viciously.
Yet, after some time, she sees Patrick from behind and is emotionally moved to go to him and apologize for her cruel words.
She was so moved, made so gentle and wistful, by the sight of him, that she wanted to give him something, some surprising bounty, she wished to undo his unhappiness.
Perhaps, then, the American title is more appropriate, especially regarding Rose.