What do the maid's clothes symbolise in the poem? Could it link to Victorian society’s fixation upon appearances? If so how?

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The "ruined maid" of the title has "fair garments" and "gay bracelets and bright feathers," and these rich items seem to greatly impress the young woman with whom she speaks. It seems that this young woman is likely a sibling to the ruined maid, as she says that the maid...

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The "ruined maid" of the title has "fair garments" and "gay bracelets and bright feathers," and these rich items seem to greatly impress the young woman with whom she speaks. It seems that this young woman is likely a sibling to the ruined maid, as she says that the maid left them in rags, with no shoes or socks, and scraping by just to remain alive. However, it is very apparent that the ruined maid has encountered relative financial success since she left her home and this bleak life, where her hands were like "paws" and her face was "blue and bleak." The ruined maid now begins to look like a respectable member of society—she has polish and looks prosperous—which is ironic, considering that she is no longer virtuous by society's standards. She is "ruined" because she is no longer a virgin. Perhaps she is "kept" by some well-to-do married man who wants a mistress, and he keeps her in money. Her clothing seems to symbolize the paradox of her respectability: she is not actually "respectable" (because she is "ruined"), but it is her "ruin" that has allowed her to look respectable.

Certainly, the Victorians cared about appearances. One had to appear morally virtuous, even if one engaged in immoral or vicious behaviors in private. It is as though appearances were more important than reality, and we see that in this poem. The "ruined maid" has a "delicate cheek" and gloves that "fit as on any la-dy!" She does not have to work now. Now that she is bereft of virtue, she can look the part of one who still possesses it.

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