The Ruined Maid

by Thomas Hardy

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Who are the speakers in Hardy's "The Ruined Maid"? What type people are they? What are their professions? What is the overall gist of their conversation? Support the answers with evidence from the poem.

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Thomas Hardy's poem "The Ruined Maid" is written as a dialogue between two women. One of these women, Amelia, is the eponymous "Ruined Maid." She used to be a country girl and a farm worker, but now she is a rich man's mistress. She is considered "ruined" because women who lost their virginity before marriage were, in Victorian England, thought of as impure, disgraced, and immoral. These so-called "Ruined" women were ostracized and looked down upon. However, during the course of the poem, we learn that Amelia does not appear to be ruined at all. She is dressed in "such fair garments," her speech is "quite fit... [for] high company," and she is described as "pretty lively." In fact, Amelia seems to have prospered from her so-called ruin. This idea is emphasized when we learn that Amelia, when she used to work on a farm, was dressed in "tatters, without shoes or socks," with hands "like paws," and a day-to-day life which she herself would describe as "a hag-ridden dream."

In the second stanza, we learn that the other, second woman used to work with Amelia on the same farm. This second woman has remained a farm worker, and presumably, she lives a similar life to that which Amelia also used to live, a hard, physical life of "digging potatoes, and spudding up docks." Amelia describes this second woman as "a raw country girl." The second woman expresses surprise as to Amelia's condition. She expected Amelia, as a "ruined" woman, to be less presentable, more downtrodden, and less well spoken. By the end of the poem, this second woman seems envious of the life that Amelia has. She says to Amelia, "I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown, / And a delicate face, and could strut about town."

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