The Ruined Maid

by Thomas Hardy

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What elements appear in the poem "The Ruined Maid"?

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"The Ruined Maid" is a poem by Thomas Hardy about a "fallen" or "ruined" woman, that is, one who engaged in premarital sex, something that could destroy a woman's chances of marriage in that period. Many such "fallen women" ended up being prostitutes or courtesans, supporting themselves by their sexual work. While many Victorian moralists condemned this behavior, others realized that the lack of other economic opportunities forced many women into prostitution. 

The poem is a dialogue between a country girl visiting town and the "ruined maid" of the title, who was once a poor country girl but now is a wealthy prostitute living in "Town" (possibly London or another major metropolis). It consists of six four-line stanzas, with each stanza rhymed AABB. The basic meter of the poem is anapestic tetrameter, but with several metrical substitutions.

The most dramatic elements of the poem are the two central comparisons, those between the ruined maid's past and her present and those between the country girl and her former friend. In both cases, rather than the "ruined" girl appearing to have been "ruined," everything from her manners to her appearance to her financial situation appear to be a significant improvement both over her past life and the life of her friend.

Thus another key element of the poem is irony. Every time we encounter the word "ruined" in the final line of a stanza, the situation which is called "ruin" looks increasingly like success and prosperity, or more like a traditional picture of salvation than ruin.


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