What is the summary of "The Ruined Maid"?
This is classic Hardy at his best with just the right amount of ambivalent irony. The poem commences with a chance meeting in town between Amelia and an old friend of hers from the country. As they chat, the friend raves about the way Amelia has been transformed from country bumpkin to an urban lady, sophisticated in her manners and dress. Amelia, however, in the last line of each stanza refers again and again to the fact that this has only come through her "ruin." This of course means that she is now working as a prostitute. Her tone, however, indicates that she is far from regretful about what has happened to her. She has indeed lost her chastity and suffered the inevitable moral backlash, but she clearly feels that she is in a more advantageous position than she was when she was working in the fields.
Perhaps the last stanza expresses the ambivalent irony of the poem best:
-- "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.
Hardy's treatment of the fallen woman in this poem therefore expresses a certain amount of ambivalence through the way it focuses on how Amelia's life, in some ways, has definitely improved.