Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Sound Check

By Thomas Hardy

Sound Check

We've got lots and lots and… well, lots to talk about here. "The Ruined Maid" is a dialogue between two women who used to work together on a farm (or a "barton"). One of them, 'Melia, has moved away to the town and been "ruined," meaning she's either a prostitute or some rich dude's mistress. The neat thing about this poem is that, since it's a dialogue and since there are two speakers, we really catch a nice glimpse of two different types of speech—that of the town, and of the country. Now, did we mention that we have lots to talk about?

The bulk of this poem is spoken by the other woman (she doesn't have a name, so we'll just call her "other woman"—catchy, we know). She's the one who still lives out in the country, and she definitely sounds like it. She pronounces big words in a sort of funny way, almost like a little kid would: "prosperi-ty," "compan-ny," and "la-dy." Furthermore, she uses a lot of dialect words, words that aren't really mainstream and are only used by a certain subset of the population (in this case, rural laborers somewhere in England). Under this heading you can put words and phrases like "spudding up docks," "thik oon,'" "sock," "megrims." Clearly the other woman is less educated than 'Melia, and speaks in a much less formal manner.

'Melia, as you may have guessed, speaks in a very reserved manner. Heck, she doesn't even speak more than a complete sentence until the very end of the poem. She responds very formally, and usually in complete sentences, to her friend's queries: "Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined" (8). She's also formulaic in her responses—"Some polish is gained with one's ruin" (12), and sounds like an example of textbook proper, Victorian, feminine behavior.

Now, Hardy doesn't just give us two different-sounding voices in this poem for kicks. The point is to paint a picture of an England that wasn't just one monolithic, everything-is-the-same kind of place. There was the country and the town, the ruined and the un-ruined. These things were very different, even at the level of dialect.

Here's one last little tidbit to consider. Did you notice that at the end 'Melia uses the word "ain't"? Hmm, that doesn't sound very familiar now does it? Nope, not at all. Clearly, 'Melia still occasionally sounds like a country-girl—proof that, no matter how hard we try, we'll never be totally "ruined," never totally be able to erase our history.

So, while this poem may not serve up a heaping of fancy poetic sound effects like alliteration or assonance, it's painting a different kind of sound picture here. Through the faithful dialect, the sound of this conversation, we get a better sense of the lives behind the words. Sound good? (Sorry…)

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