What would a structuralist reading of Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid" (1901) look like?
A structuralist reading of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid” will account for the elements of form that are present in the poem. These include (but are not limited to) the rhyme scheme, the metrical feet, and the stanza division.
Let’s start with the stanza division and the rhyme scheme. “The Ruined Maid” is comprised of six, four-line stanzas; the four line stanza structure is also known as a quatrain. The rhyme scheme follows a regular AABB patter, where the letters represent each line’s end rhyme. The rhyme scheme consists of exact, or full, rhymes; this means that the end rhymes are words that have the same sound such as “bleak / cheek” or “dream / seem.” Additionally, exact rhymes have a light, playful, and flippant tone. This gives the poem a sing-song quality, that adds significant irony to the fact that the protagonist, ‘Melia, is a prostitute. Also, the couplets allow the poem to function like a dialogue. Recall that Hardy structures the poem as a conversation between two women; thus, the couplets take readers right into a dialogue which satirizes the position of fallen women in Victorian England.
The poem begins with an iambic foot followed by three anapestic feet. An iamb is the most common metrical foot in English verse; it is an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable. It makes the sound daDUM. An anapest is two unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. It makes the sound dadaDUM. For example, let’s look at the first line. The stressed lines are in bold and the metrical feet are divided by a slash mark: “O 'Mel / ia, my dear, / this does eve / rything crown!”
The iambic foot urges the reader forward into the poem, whereas the anapestic foot slows the reader down. This makes sense considering that Hardy wrote the poem as a type of social reform. He wanted to jar his readers and bring reform to the treatment of women, and particularly that of the ruined maid, in Victorian England.