The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy

The Ruined Maid Poem

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown! Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”–
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.
–“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”–
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.
–“At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon’ and ‘theäs oon’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compan-ny!”–
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.
–“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”–
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.
–“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”–
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

–“I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town.”–
“My dear – a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

Explanation of Poem “The Ruined Maid”

This poem, “The ruined Maid” by Thomas Hardy was written in 1866 but published in 1901. It, like his novel “Tess of the Turbeville” which also reveals the injustices of the Victorian age and women’s insecure social position, explicitly throws light on Victorian morality and ironically shows the dark aspects of the so-called moral standards which were established for the women. This is a dramatic dialogue that gives special emphasis to the social mores prevalent in the then Victorian society. The poem exclusively reveals the narrative through a verbal exchange between the two ladies, one of whom has gone to the city out of her disappointment with the farm life but the other has remained in the country.

The poem is composed of six quatrains, and everyone is organized in the same style. The name of the first girl is unknown. She lives on a farm and speaks to the other girl whose name is Melia. Melia, who has recently returned from the city, answers the questions posed by the first girl. In all stanzas, except the last one, Melia uses the word “ruin” which emphasizes the fact that she has lost something very essential.

Summary of Poem

Both the poems “The Ruined Maid” and “To His Coy Mistress” present us with some upsetting imagery, forms of love, sex, and relationships in terms of feminine character. As for as The “Ruined Maid” is concerned it was written at that time when women were not supposed to have sex before marriage and they were discarded and thrown out of their village for being “ruined”. They were considered prostitutes and society looked down upon them. The people of the Victorian age had a very stern view of sex and marriage.

They proclaimed that women, in particular, should never have sex before marriage and they should have everything taken off them for being “ruined”. They were discriminatively regarded as a stigma to the so-called social norms. The “Ruined Maid” provides us with the same situation of an upsetting relationship because the poem describes a woman who has been “ruined” by the socialized society. This means that she has done sex before marriage. But ironically, she describes this loss of virginity as something really good and essential as she has come to the conclusion that a poor woman with few chances to live a good life must have to sacrifice her virginity for the sake of a facilitated life.

The poem contains six stanzas and each stanza has four lines. The rhyming scheme is “AABB” and all the stanzas have maintained the same style throughout the poem. The first speaker in the first stanza is an unknown lady, but it is clear that she belongs to a farm where she works. She expresses her incredulity at meeting another woman by the name of Melia.

Apparently, she has come from the town street. The nameless speaker discloses many things about Melia but the most particular is that she is a “ruined maid” Here the readers also come to know that Melia is exquisitely dressed and looks gorgeous. In every stanza, Melia speaks the last line, demonstrating that she has been ‘ruined’. Contextually the word “ruined” means that she has crossed the threshold of Victorian morals by selling herself and has virtually lost her virginity. She would no more be regarded as pure and marriageable even among men of her own social stratum. (The Ruined Maid)

The unnamed speaker further discloses that when ‘Melia left the farm she was barefooted and had the most simple and humble clothes. But as she has returned she looks absolutely different and meticulous. She no longer seems like a farm girl. By all virtues, she looks like a fashionable, stylish, and socialized lady who no longer appears to have worked as a laborer on the farms sometime ago. Apparently, she has worn expensive jewelry and feathers. Melia, however, verifies that this is the prescribed costume of her newly found job.

While the two ladies are on the farm, ‘Melia speaks with a formal tone, which the unnamed girl imitates. The unnamed girl also reveals that her accent, she exclaims, befits Melia’s demeanor which makes her admirable of the aristocratic disposition that she has so delicately achieved. However, the last line of the stanza ironically indicates that Melia has achieved elegance with her loss of virginity which was considered as the dignity of a woman in Victorian society. Her hands and face are described as soft and delicate.

While on the ‘barton’, ‘Melia’s hands were more like paws, but her modified gloves now show that her hands have grown slender and graceful. They seem as if she was not exposed to any hard work before and that her enlarged knuckles or deformed hand shape are no longer visible. Melia, however, verifies that she does not work now because she is ruined and the ruined ladies don’t work. The unnamed girl also discloses that before going to the town, Melia regularly complained about unbearable headaches, and was always dejected while working in the farmyard. However, now she appears relaxed and happy. In reply ‘Melia again confirms her cheerful disposition in her newly found profession as the result of her being ruined.

The unnamed farm girl is so fascinated by ‘Melia’s looks and deportment, possibly not realizing the gravity of such an achievement and Melia’s newly found profession, the unnamed farm girl unknowingly desires that she, too, wants to dress as ‘Melia does and leisurely walk on the streets. This time, ‘Melia speaks the stanza’s last two lines. While coldly untying herself from her previous friend, whom she describes a “raw country girl”, Melia manages to divulge her own modest days by using “ain’t” in her final conclusive remarks. The poet reminds the readers that while she has run away from the farmyard, she has not escaped the truth of her societal stratum, which, at that time, was decided by birth and education.

Melia is possibly the short form of “Amelia”, which resembles “ameliorate”. Its root “meloir” is, perhaps, from the Latin language. In Latin “meloir” means to grow mild or to moderate or simply to improve, a somewhat obscure allusion to the complimentary alteration in ‘Melia’s financial conditions.

Hardy’s poetry, like his other literary works, is mostly focused on the social injustices and class differences in contemporary Victorian society. He is time and again apprehensive of the Victorian age’s deep-rooted social system and with the ethical and financial constrictions forced on women by unwritten patriarchal rules. Through his dramatic dialogue between an inexperienced farm girl and her previous co-worker, now prostitute, Hardy builds the sarcasm on the women’s basic realities.

Eventually, every woman performs undignified work for her survival, but she has always been denied a due standing in the society of which she is a half partner. With a view to ameliorating her economic situation, the conventional ethical rules always hinder her resolve. In struggles and endeavors, she, sometimes, loses her dignity and is “ruined” in the process. Very true of Victorian society, the woman in this poem has destined herself to a position even lower and a future even darker than the farm girl’s.

Critical Appreciation

Thomas Hardy once stated: “What is essential in poetry is that it should be charged with emotion, and secondly that the moods of this emotion have aesthetic or ethical value … ” In the “Ruined maid” hardy has proved this point. Here in this poem, he skillfully sets up a dialogue between two female characters in which there is a barter of divergent passions. The first speaker, who is unnamed, comes across “‘Melia,” a young woman and perhaps a previous friend, whom she has not met for a long time.

The theme of the conversation is obviously about ‘Melia’s “new way of life” and how it has modified her. Although her new way of life seems vague, a vigilant assessment of their conversation discloses that ‘Melia’s newly found profession is that of a prostitute. By exploring the articulation of the two speakers – their choice of the words, certain vowel sounding words, and word structures – the reader not only identifies the disparity of emotions but also ‘Melia’s transformation from a simple and rustic life to a more refined and social demeanor. It also exhibits how she places some moral significance on her newly found way of life.

The poet’s main spokesperson is a young farm maid, whose conversation takes place in the first three lines of each quatrain of all six stanzas, excluding the last stanza where Amelia makes the final conclusion. Her words, as well as Melia’s words, disclose that the first speaker belongs to the lower stratum of society. This unnamed speaker’s conversation shows sentiments of astonishment, repulsion, remembrance, appreciation, and jealousy. Contrary to this, the second speaker is the young woman whose reaction comes about in the last line of each quatrain and the last two lines of the final quatrain. Her terse response to the first speaker’s remarks, demonstrates a stance of superiority and height.

The first speaker’s choice of words and her use of language about Melia’s explicit transformation is exceptional. The very first line “‘O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!'” not only instigates her shock in seeing her friend but the final word of that line, “crown,” succeeds her friend’s appearance as a magnificent depiction. Then, further elaborating on Melia’s new way of life, the first speaker observes her friend’s exceptionally neat disposition and employs consecutive words that describe images of a polished woman. For example, “fair garments” and “prosperity”, “gay bracelets” and “bright feathers”, a “delicate cheek”, some “little gloves”, a “fine sweeping gown”, and, a “delicate face” all indicate the first speaker’s utter surprise.

However, the first speaker also employs certain words that tell about the previous condition of ‘Melia’s former rural background. For example, “tatters” and “without shoes or socks”, “digging potatoes” and “spudding up docks”, “barton,” “thee” and “thou”, “paws” and “blue and bleak”, “hag-ridden dream”, and “megrims of melancholy” show Amelia’s pathetic past. Thus, the selection of words by the first speaker exhibits sentiments floating from intense astonishment and appreciation to a profound remembrance about a cruel and disgusting life, one of which she still goes through.

Melia’s reaction to the first speaker’s diverse feelings concerning her new condition is one of haughtiness and altitude. Her discourse, which takes place in the last line of each stanza, seems to be one of an ordinary tone as she employs but a few words that describe images of her past or present life. However, at the end of the poem, ‘Melia’s fine example of a sophisticated woman who has got free time and a lot of wealth makes the first speaker wish that she also wants to change her life. ‘Melia tackles her jealousy by saying: “My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be, / Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,’ said she”. Melia thinks her way of life is precious but feels that she not only has surrendered her virginity to achieve worldly happiness and standing but also has engaged herself in a disgraceful profession.

Hardy’s this poem acquires an instructive conversation that divulges so much about its two feminine characters. However, a cautious assessment of the categorization of sounds made by those words displays the personalities of the two characters. Hardy is extremely careful in the selection of words and correctly emphasizes the divergent feelings between the two characters. Not only Amelia has changed outwardly, but her entire idea of status changes from rusticity to sophistication. If the reader gives close attention to the details of the poem he comes to know that Thomas Hardy is not only an accomplished poet but he also skillfully uses English Language for exquisitely conveying his message.

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