The Ruined Maid (F*) - Thomas Hardy
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AN OVERVIEW


The poem was published in 1901, The Ruined Maid, like Hardy's novels, comments on the hypocrisy of Victorian morality. This dramatic dialogue points up accepted social values, by comically undermining (satirising them).
Hardy’s poem was written in 1866 and published in 1901, exactly ten years after he completed Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which also revealed the injustices of Victorian morality and women’s insecure social position. This poem is an example of a dramatic dialogue, in which a story is revealed exclusively through a verbal exchange between two characters. Playing on the word ‘ruined’, Hardy questions which woman's reality is the harsher and suggests the difficulty of morals for women in that time.
Hardy’s The Ruined Maid is a dramatic dialogue, comprised of six four-line stanzas. An AABB rhyme scheme carries through each stanza in the poem.

Stanza One

The speaker of the first three lines is an unnamed farm maid, who expresses disbelief at seeing a woman named ‘Melia in the town street. This unnamed speaker reveals the most about the ruined maid, ‘Melia.’ It is here that we learn that ‘Melia is dressed well and looks rich. In each stanza, ‘Melia speaks the last line, indicating that she’s been ‘ruined’. In this context, ‘ruined’ means that she has crossed the Victorian-era morality line by selling herself. She would be considered soiled and unmarriageable even among men of her own class.


Stanza Two

The unnamed farm maid reveals that when ‘Melia left the farm she lacked shoes and socks and was wearing little better than rags. However, ‘Melia could apparently no longer cope with farm work’s hard labor. Now, she wears jewelry and feathers. ‘Melia confirms that this is the uniform of her new profession.

Stanza Three

While on the farm, ‘Melia spoke with a heavy accent, which the unnamed farm maid mimics. She herself reveals her own accent when she exclaims that ‘Melia’s deportment makes her worthy of the posh set. Ironically, in the stanza’s last line, ‘Melia indicates that she has gained refinement with her loss of conventional dignity.

Stanza Four

‘Melia’s hands and face are described by the nameless farm maid. While on the ‘barton’, ‘Melia’s hands more closely resembled paws, but her tailored gloves now indicate that her hands have grown slim and elegant. They fit as if she had not done any hard labor that would broaden knuckles or distort hand shape. ‘Melia confirms that she does no work now that she is ruined.

Stanza Five

The farm maid reveals that ‘Melia frequently complained, suffered headaches, and was depressed while working in the farm yard. However, now she seems comfortable. ‘Melia again affirms her spirited character in her new occupation.

Stanza Six

Captivated by ‘Melia’s appearance and general bearing (and possibly not understanding the reality of 'Melia's new career), the farm maid innocently wishes that she, too, could dress as 'Melia does and idly stroll the streets. This time, ‘Melia has the stanza’s last two lines. While icily separating herself from her former co-worker, whom she calls a “raw country girl”, 'Melia manages to reveal her own humble origins by using ‘ain’t’ in her final sentence. Hardy reminds the audience that while she’s escaped the farmyard, she has not escaped the fact of her social class, which, at the time, was determined by birth and education.



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