The Ruined Maid

by Thomas Hardy

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

There are two characters in this poem, a girl called 'Melia (which seems to be short for Amelia) who has been "ruined" (likely she has become a prostitute in order to support herself financially), and the "'raw country girl'" to whom Amelia speaks. The two young women meet by accident in town one day, after what seems like an extended period of having not seen one another, and the other young woman is quite surprised to see Amelia, and even more surprised to see the healthy and happy way Amelia now looks. Both young women seem to come from the same place—perhaps they were friends or are even sisters who have become estranged as a result of Amelia's choices—as the other girl tells Amelia that she

. . . left [them] in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks[.]

Both young women, then, grew up in poverty, with too much work and not enough food, but Amelia seems to have greatly improved her situation by embracing what society would have termed moral ruin. She has traded poverty and virtue for money and corruption, and it certainly seems to have affected her life for the better. The other girl, then, possesses virtue but no money, and she lives a hard life, hand to mouth, never sure of her future and never feeling contented. Amelia, on the other hand, lacks virtue but has money and the means to support herself comfortably. Her life is evidently much easier, as it shows in her face (according to the other girl), and she seems "'lively'" rather than sad and morose and depressed. The other girl comments on how well she looks now.

In the end, the other girl expresses her wish that she, too, could have beautiful dresses and accessories, a lovely complexion, and the time to walk around town and be seen. However, Amelia explains that this other girl cannot expect to have such fine things because she is not morally ruined, as Amelia is.

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