The Ruined Maid, Thomas Hardy – an Analysis

Standard

Title
Some kind of….um. Fallen angel? Someone who has sinned?

Gut Reaction
This very much feels like when the popular girl in school meets the former geek in school and realises that geek girl is actually a stunner – and geek girl tells her how she got to be that way. Cue popular girl jealousy.

What does it all mean?
“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Hello, flower, well doesn’t this top everything…familiarity with the shortened name? Crown, a suggestion of new ‘stateliness’?

Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
Who’d have thought I’d bump into you here? Town, noting the time the poem was written, could be a major town or ‘the’ major town, London. Or, given the fact that these two women were likely farm hands of some sort, perhaps some small rural town outside of where they grew up.

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
‘You’re looking good, where’d you get the fancy clothes?’ Jealousy can make you ugly, honey.

“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.
Didn’t you know I’d fallen from grace? Which, given the Victorian period when this poem was written, would actually mean the woman in question was no longer a virgin and not married. Victorians were more than a little prude about the ideas of sex, and especially about women having any sexuality – or, heaven forbid, enjoying it.

— “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;

When we knew you you were essentially a peasant – during this time in our history the poorest would have had potatoes as essentially their main source of food, so this firmly places our subject amongst the poor. ‘You left us’ – is there a sense of feeling betrayed, left behind?

And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
Is there a sense of envy at the character’s finery here? Or just pointing out a vast contrast between rich and formerly poor?

“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.
Is the subject displaying pride here, showing that also she’s ‘ruined’ she’s better off in the life she has now than she ever was ‘back home’. Is she a mistress to someone?

— “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’
And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —

‘Back at the farm – ‘barton’ – you spoke like a commoner but now listen to the way you talk, you could fit in here with ‘high company’.

“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.
Yes, it does feel a little like our subject is proud of the ‘new’ her, almost gloating, she has improved since she ‘fell’. There feels a touch of Pygmalion to this although that particular play postdates the poem being written.

— “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —

Once you were almost wild – ‘paws’ – no doubt from working the land, cold and without any hope on your face, but now look at you, all delicate features and fine clothes.

“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.
Again, perhaps the subject is a mistress now and no longer needs to do manual labour.

— “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —

You used to always be sad and melancholy and unhappy but now you don’t seem to know what those words mean. (Megrims – low spirits, in case you’re interested).

“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.
The subject agrees, her life is full of happy events now that she’s ruined. She keeps referring back to this as though it were the making of her when everyone would expect it to be her downfall.

— “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —

There is a sense of envy here, the person questioning our subject is wishing her life could be full of such finery and ease.

“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

The subject retorts that the ‘raw country girl’ – what she used to be – cannot have the finer things in life because she has stayed good and pure, and not been ruined. There is definitely a sense of scorn here, a little triumph.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Six quatrains, logical order to the story of an impromptu meeting.

Tone
Amazement, jealousy, awe, smugness.

Suggested rhyme scheme
Aabb
ccbb
ddbb
eebb
ffee
aabb

Similes and metaphors
‘Polish’ – a more refined look comes with ruin – she has had the opportunity to care for her appearance which she wouldn’t have had a a peasant?

Author’s relationship with their subject
The author seems to be the subject’s champion – he wants her to gloat in her new life when her former ‘friend’ comes calling.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
The story juxtaposes the position of the two women in the story and poses the question, considering their status and appearance – which one of them is actually ruined? There is a lot of awe and envy on one side, and a lot of gloating on the other; does the ‘farm’ girl wish her life to change in a similar manner?

Signing off
There is a lot of envy in the world when we see the people who were our equals or even beneath us at one time in our lives, now living a life that we could only dream of. Even if we judged their methods of reaching their current status. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the ruin hinted at in this poem because times have changed and pre-marital sex is not the big deal it once was. But it does poetically demonstrate how jealousy works and how ‘falls from graces’ can actually be a step up in the world. Not that I’m suggesting all sorts of debauchery and badness to achieve that. Just, you know. Sometimes those people who you feel better than will have the opportunity to look down on you some point in the future.

Links

Thomas Hardy

Schmoop

ECU

When I read this I think of the song… There’s absolutely no connection here at all but… all I hear is Jolene.

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