'The Ruined Maid' by Thomas Hardy


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"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 'thes oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy: A Feminist Interpretation

Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid" is a timeless classic that explores themes of gender, class, and societal expectations. Set in the Victorian era, the poem tells the story of a young woman who has fallen from grace and become a "ruined maid." She meets her former friend, now a society woman, and the two engage in a witty conversation that exposes the hypocrisy of the time. The poem has been interpreted in many ways, but in this literary criticism, I will argue that it can be read as a feminist text that challenges the patriarchal norms of Victorian society.

The Paradox of the Ruined Maid

The poem's central paradox lies in the fact that the ruined maid is praised for her beauty and charm, despite her "fallen" status. Her former friend, who is now a "mistress," marvels at her appearance and exclaims:

"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!"

The mistress is both envious and admiring of the ruined maid's appearance, yet she also pities her for her fallen status. The poem exposes the hypocrisy of a society that both values and punishes women for their beauty and sexuality. The ruined maid is both objectified and ostracized, and her beauty is both a blessing and a curse.

The Power of Language

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the way in which language is used to subvert societal expectations. The ruined maid speaks in a dialect that is typical of the lower classes, but she also uses elevated language to mock her former friend's attempts to distance herself from her own past. For example, when the mistress asks her how she can afford her new clothes and jewels, the ruined maid replies:

"And I'm doing extremely well, thank 'ee," "I now pays my way and earns a moiety Besides washing the plate for the Dean and Chapter And so, ye see, I'm not in want of a husband!"

The ruined maid's use of the word "moiety" is both a sign of her newfound wealth and a subtle dig at the mistress's attempts to appear refined. The use of dialect also serves to highlight the power dynamics at play. The ruined maid may be "ruined," but she is also quick-witted and able to hold her own in a conversation with a woman of higher social status.

The Subversion of Gender Roles

The poem also challenges traditional gender roles by presenting the ruined maid as a sexually liberated woman who is unashamed of her past. This is evident in her response to the mistress's questions about her romantic life:

"And do you remember the feller all in a smother With gold on his waistcoat and chains on his breast?" "That's near upon twenty years since," said she. "You left us in tatters without shoes or socks, And took the bread from our hungry mouts, And from us that had not much anyhow, You took away our few poor comforts, and left us to do without.

The ruined maid does not apologize for her past relationships, nor does she seek the approval of the mistress. Instead, she uses her sexuality as a source of power, flaunting her beauty and charm in a way that challenges traditional notions of femininity. Her refusal to conform to societal expectations is both liberating and subversive, and it challenges the patriarchal norms of Victorian society.

Conclusion

In conclusion, "The Ruined Maid" is a powerful poem that challenges the gendered and class-based expectations of Victorian society. The ruined maid's use of language and her refusal to conform to traditional gender roles make her a feminist icon, and her story serves as a reminder that women have always been agents of their own lives. Thomas Hardy's poem is a testament to the power of language and the enduring nature of feminist ideals.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a satirical piece that explores the themes of social class, gender roles, and morality. The poem is written in a conversational tone and is structured as a dialogue between two women. The first woman is a country girl who has come to the city to work as a maid, while the second woman is her former friend who has become a prostitute. The poem is a commentary on the double standards of Victorian society and the hypocrisy of its moral values.

The poem begins with the country girl addressing her friend, the ruined maid. She is surprised to see her friend dressed in fine clothes and wearing expensive jewelry. The country girl is impressed by her friend's appearance and asks her how she has managed to become so rich and fashionable. The ruined maid responds by saying that she has been ruined by a gentleman who has taken her away from the country and brought her to the city. The country girl is shocked by this revelation and asks her friend how she can live with herself knowing that she has been ruined.

The ruined maid responds by saying that she is not ashamed of what she has become. She tells her friend that she is now living a life of luxury and that she has everything she could ever want. The country girl is still skeptical and asks her friend if she is happy. The ruined maid responds by saying that she is very happy and that she has no regrets about her past.

The poem then takes a satirical turn as the ruined maid begins to describe her new lifestyle. She tells her friend that she now has a maid of her own and that she no longer has to do any work. She also tells her friend that she has a fine house and that she is able to eat and drink whatever she wants. The country girl is amazed by her friend's lifestyle and asks her how she is able to afford all of these luxuries.

The ruined maid responds by saying that she has many gentlemen friends who are willing to pay for her company. She tells her friend that she is now a prostitute and that she is able to make a lot of money by selling her body. The country girl is shocked by this revelation and tells her friend that she could never do such a thing. The ruined maid responds by saying that she is not like her friend and that she is able to do whatever she wants.

The poem ends with the ruined maid telling her friend that she should come and join her in the city. She tells her friend that she could make a lot of money and that she could live a life of luxury just like her. The country girl is hesitant and tells her friend that she could never do such a thing. The ruined maid responds by saying that she is missing out on all of the fun and that she should not be so judgmental.

The Ruined Maid is a powerful commentary on the double standards of Victorian society. It shows how women were judged differently based on their social class and their sexual behavior. The poem also explores the theme of morality and how it is often used to control and manipulate people. The ruined maid is a symbol of the hypocrisy of Victorian society and the way in which it treated women.

The poem is written in a conversational tone and is structured as a dialogue between two women. This makes the poem more accessible and allows the reader to engage with the themes and ideas presented in the poem. The use of satire is also effective in highlighting the absurdity of Victorian society and the way in which it treated women.

Overall, The Ruined Maid is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. It is a powerful commentary on the double standards of Victorian society and the way in which it treated women. The poem is a reminder that we must continue to fight for gender equality and to challenge the societal norms that seek to control and oppress women.

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