Monday, July 9, 2012

"Royal Beatings" by Alice Munro

"The person who spoke these words and the person who spoke to her as her father were not the same, though they seemed to occupy the same space. It would be the worst sort of taste to acknowledge the person who was not supposed to be there; it would not be forgiven. Just the same, she loitered and listened. The cloud-capped towers, she heard him say once. 'The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces.' That was like a hand clapped against Rose's chest, not to hurt, but astonish her, to take her breath away" (4). 

This is a favorite quote from a favorite story from a favorite collection, Alice Munro's The Beggar Maid. (The title comes from this legend and painting.) "Royal Beatings" especially is a story I return to again and again. Frankly, it deserves more than one post.

For today, I am enthralled by how accurately the story portrays our inability to fully know one another, and in particular, our great difficulty in knowing our parents, whose person-hoods are often eclipsed by roles. 
Rose senses role changes in her parents and other adults as a child and eloquently recalls her thoughts and feelings as an adult. 

Her father is a quiet man who repairs furniture and recites poems. He is also king of the royal beatings, "his face like his voice [...] quite out of character" (19). Her stepmother, Flo, is the woman who sets the royal beating in motion by goading her, and she is the woman who pleads with her husband not to whip so hard, the woman who rubs cream on Rose's back and brings her a special meal when everything is over. The neighbor, Becky Tyde, is an elegant yet physically mangled dwarf, a daily presence at Flo's store but also the subject of horrendous town rumors. 

In this story, everyone's a mystery. The mystery never redeems the violence, but it allows us to see how the characters co-exist with it, how they miraculously survive, manage love and joy. In a scene near the end, Flo does tricks with her double-jointed arms. The family looks at the stars. "The planet Venus!" Rose's father says, applauding Flo. "Ten thousand electric lights!" (24).

my 1982 Bantam mass-market copy

P.S. The line Rose's father recites is from Shakespeare's The Tempest

Propspero:              "The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
                                The solemn temples, the great globe itself. 
                                Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
                                And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
                                Leave not a wrack behind." (4.1)


  1. wonderful! I don't know what it is about crafts, but I do love them so! Very nice! plagiarism finder

  2. I like to reading books, stories, poems. It seems that you follow the life of another person, or watch through the keyhole. By the way, you can use free plagiarism checker for verifying your unique text on the blog.