The Ruined Maid

by Thomas Hardy

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

When the "'raw country girl,'" sees 'Melia (Amelia) in town, she immediately expresses her shock over Amelia's "'fair garments [and] prosperi-ty[.]" Amelia looks quite a bit different from how she did when she was living at home "'in tatters, without shoes or socks." Evidently, life at home meant inadequate clothing and inadequate food, with too much work for too little benefit. Now, however, that Amelia has been ruined, she has "'gay bracelets and bright feathers'" to wear around town. In other words, she can afford not only shoes and socks—the necessities she lacked before her fall—but she also has money to spare for beautiful accessories and frills.

Moreover, Amelia's speech evidently used to be quite homely and uneducated, rather like the speech of the other girl with whom she converses, who says things like "'thik oon,' and theas oon.'" Now, however, the other girl points out that Amelia's speech is so polished that she sounds as though she is ready to take her place in "'high company.'" The other girl also points out,

Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek[.}

Amelia is said to have had hands like paws, a simile that makes it seem as though she was like an animal in her past life. This is probably a pretty fair comparison. She likely only had a chance to think about staying alive—what she could eat, how to stay warm, and so on—without the opportunity to really think and feel, to dream or plan for the future. It was a very spare existence that reduced her and stripped her of her humanity. Now, though, she "'never do[es] work'" because she is ruined. The kind of work that Amelia does now, she does not seem to consider to be nearly as trying or difficult as the work she did then. Even if it's unpleasant, she seems much happier as a result of the life it affords her. Her life is no longer a "'hag-ridden dream'" of despair and pain; instead, her life is "'pretty lively'" as a ruined woman.

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