Study Guide

Bev Shaw in Disgrace

By J.M. Coetzee

Bev Shaw

We meet Bev Shaw when David goes to the market with Lucy for the first time. Bev unambiguously belongs to the country. In contrast with the women that David's used to meeting in the city, she totally rubs him the wrong way. He can't get over her plain looks:

He has not taken to Bev Shaw, a dumpy, bustling little woman with black freckles, close-cropped wiry hair, and no neck. He does not like women who make no effort to be attractive. (8.52).

In addition to Bev's lackluster looks, she also has a job that strikes David (OK, and us at first, too) as a little strange. She runs the Animal Welfare Clinic on a voluntary basis, taking care of animals who are injured or sick and putting those animals to sleep who are too far gone or just plain unwanted. While this job strikes us as weird at first, though, it reveals a lot about her character. Bev sees herself as the person who guides those who suffer to their rest. While she does this most obviously for animals, it is also worth noting that she starts to play the role of guide for David, too.

One of the most interesting moments of Bev's many interactions with David is when she hits him up for sex. It just blows our minds. Up until this moment, we've seen her as one of the most morally upright characters of the book – and then she goes and cheats on Bill, her squat but friendly husband? We see a side of her here that we weren't really expecting. Still, it doesn't seem like she expects anything to come of their tryst relationship-wise; it seems that she's filling a need that they both have. And not to be trite, but many facets of Bev's relationship with David are like that. Without him knowing it, she seems to provide just what he needs. In this case, by having sex with David, Bev gives his romantic life a reality check – we see this play out later when he decides to make the heroine of his opera an older woman.

Bev's companionship isn't just physical, though; she also acts as David's confidante and trusted adviser. Sometimes she offers him words of comfort; other times she gets tough and tells him when to back off and mind his own business. When things get tough for Lucy following her rape, for example, Bev isn't afraid to hit him with a dose of Lucy's perspective and to tell him he doesn't understand what's going on. Still, regardless of whether she's being encouragingly optimistic or surprisingly tough, Bev is a constant presence of wisdom and comfort throughout the novel.