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Lives of Girls and Women

Alice Munro
Plot Summary

Lives of Girls and Women

Alice Munro

Fiction | Short Story Collection | Adult | Published in 1971

Plot Summary
Lives of Girls and Women is a short story cycle by Canadian author Alice Munro, first published in 1971. This series of interconnected short stories centers around a woman named Del Jordan as she grows up in the small Southern Ontario town of Jubilee. An outsider dissatisfied with small town life and looking to distance herself from her mother - who she’s more like than she’d prefer to admit - the stories follow her as she matures and explores the world outside Jubilee. Centering almost entirely around female characters with only a few male characters, it is considered one of the best works of feminist Canadian literature. Exploring themes of growing up, the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, and the issues women face in society, Lives of Girls and Women is considered one of Munro’s most impressive works. It was adapted into a Canadian television movie in 1994, starring Tanya Allen as Del.

Lives of Girls and Women is told through a series of short stories, each chronicling a different key moment in Del’s life as she grows from a young girl into womanhood. The first section, “The Flats Road”, introduces Del and her small prairie town of Jubilee. She lives with her parents, her younger brother, and her Uncle Benny (who is not actually a relative, but living with the family after his divorce) in a small country home on the outskirts of town. Uncle Benny’s plight is the first experience Del has with seeing someone’s life fall apart, and it gives her a more skeptical oulook on the world. The second story, “Heirs of the Living Body”, focuses on Del’s life as her world begins to expand. She gets to know people beyond her immediate family, as more relatives visit. In particular, her aunts seem to have a negative attitude and discourage her from taking any chances and hoping for anything beyond day-to-day survival. She continues to try to find her own place in the family, the town, and the larger world.

The third story, “Princess Ida”, focuses on Del’s mother Addie. Addie is a door-to-door salesperson, hawking encyclopedias. She enjoys her job because it gives her freedom and helps her understand the world in a rational way. Del and her mother spend summers in the main town of Jubilee, and Del has come to both love and hate the place. Del’s mother shares her own humble upbringing with her daughter, and Del learns that her mother was sexually abused by Dell’s uncle Bill. Bill is still in the town, and later in this story visits Del and Addie. This forever changes the way Del views both her family and her town, who have kept such a terrible secret all this time. The fourth story, “Age of Faith”, tackles the question of religion in small town Canada. In Jubilee, attending church is as much a social affair as a religious one, and it illuminates the distinction between the town's in-crowd and the outcasts. People go to church to be seen by the rest of the town, and as such, the church is often abuzz with talk of who’s there and what they’re wearing, with faith a forgotten subject. Del is seeking a greater understanding of religion, and attends one church after another trying to find meaning. She winds up enjoying the theater of religious practice, but is still searching for meaning.



“Changes and Ceremonies” concentrates on Del's first crush on a classmate. This boy, Frank Wales, occupies Del’s attention for a while. However, the sudden death of her teacher, Miss Farris, soon changes the town forever. It becomes clearer and clearer to Del that the town is keeping many secrets, and Jubilee is not the friendly, wholesome place it seems. She gets older, and in the titular story, “Lives of Girls and Women”, she meets the man who will become her first lover. This is Art Chamberlain, a worker at the local radio station. He’s already involved with another woman, Fern Dogherty. Del’s first relationship is filled with turmoil and is passionate, but inappropriate. In “Baptism”, she finds a healthier relationship in the form of Garnet French, a charismatic and worldly man. This concluding story sees Del undergo a rebirth, as she begins her life as an adult. Finally, “Epilogue: The Photographer”, catches up with Del as an adult and shows that she’s become a successful writer who has broadened her horizons outside Jubilee.

Alice Ann Munro is a Canadian short story writer is considered one of the most revolutionary writers in the genre today. The author of fourteen collections of original short stories and seven collections of her previous shorts, she is one of Canada’s most decorated authors. Most notably, she is the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. She has also received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the O. Henry Award, the Man Booker International Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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