Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Women and Femininity

By Thomas Hardy

Women and Femininity

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"-
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she. (3-4)

This is our first allusion to Victorian sexual norms. 'Melia is "ruined," meaning she has sacrificed her virginity in some way (she could be a prostitute or a mistress). Interestingly, she uses the passive voice and says she has been ruined. This suggests that perhaps her "ruin" isn't her own fault.

And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"-
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she. (7-8)

We get the passive voice again, and again a connection between female elegance and ruin. This idea will be developed as the poem progresses. It is only after she is ruined that 'Melia starts to resemble a typical Victorian woman.

-"Your hands were like paws then, you face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"-
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she. (13-16)

Even though she's ruined, 'Melia is now more a lady than ever. She actually looks like a nice, pretty, elegant female. Before, she resembled a man or an animal, with rough "paws" instead of hands and a dirty, "bleak" face. Becoming the ideal woman and being ruined are weirdly the same thing for Hardy.

-"I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town"- (21-22)

The other woman wishes she could become a different woman, a woman like 'Melia, with good skin and nice clothes. Clearly she has some idea of femininity, and what she currently has doesn't stack up.

"My dear - raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she (23-24)

There's something about that word "girl" here. Okay, so 'Melia probably just means "female," but it's almost like she's drawing distinction between being a poor "country girl" and being an elegant woman. As in lines 21-22, there are two different ideas of womanhood at work here.

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