The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid” is a dialogue between two farm girls in late Victorian England, one of whom has left the farm for city life, and the other of whom has remained in the country. The poem consists of six quatrains, each of which is organized in the same fashion. The first girl—unidentified by name and yet living on a farm—addresses the other girl, named Melia, who answers. In all but one stanza, the last one, the first girl has three lines of the quatrain, and Melia is given a one-line response in which she uses the word “ruin” or some variation of it. Through this conversation, Hardy provides social commentary about his real subject: prostitution and its effects.

The poem is set in “Town,” presumably a small rural town to which Melia has returned and near which she previously lived. The two girls have not seen each other for some time, and the chance meeting on the street affords them an opportunity to catch up. It is not clear that, previously, they have been close friends; however, they have been close acquaintances, and hence there is something of an intimate, yet casual, conversation.

In the introductory stanza the first speaker addresses Melia by inquiring, at once, about her “fair garments” and “such prosperi-ty.” Melia replies, “‘O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?’” This establishes the pattern of the poem as well as indicates the characters and personalities of the two young girls....

(The entire section is 489 words.)