Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Stanza 4

By Thomas Hardy

Stanza 4

Lines 13-15

-"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!"-

  • Well, we weren't exactly sure what 'Melia's body looked like back in the "barton," but now we know, courtesy of her friend.
  • Her hands were more like an animal's "paws" and her face was sad and dirty ("blue and bleak").
  • Now, though, her cheek is "delicate" (smooth, pretty, and elegant) and her hands are no longer like paws. Now they fit nicely into her little gloves.
  • Okay, so let's break all this down. 
  • First off, why paws? The simile makes 'Melia, and other farm laborers, seem inhuman—having animal-like "paws," not hands.
  • It also gives us an idea of what people's hands look like when they work their tails off on farms—they get calloused, rough, and big. 
  • They used to look like this, but now they look like this.
  • 'Melia's friend is really stunned by 'Melia's new look. She's "bewitched," meaning she's fascinated, charmed, tickled, in awe.
  • Since her hands are nice and neat now, she can fit them into gloves and thus dress more like a lady, more like this
  • Wait, so if she's more of a lady in the town (she can wear gloves, her hands are nicer, her cheek is prettier), is this some ironic comment on the life of a woman in the country? Sure seems like it.
  • Even though 'Melia goes on and on about being ruined, and even though Hardy's stiff Victorian culture would have said the same, we're getting a little bit of a different story here.
  • 'Melia was more ruined while she was in the country, at least physically speaking.
  • There's Hardy at it again, questioning all the stuffy Victorian norms that he was so known for... well, questioning. 

Line 16

"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

  • As we suspected, it's the "work" 'Melia used to do that did all that damage to her body. "Ruined" women like her, she says, don't do any work.
  • Well that makes her seem a little lazy, doesn't it? If she's not doing any work, where is she getting all the cash for the clothes, and gloves, and feathers, etc.?
  • We've touched on this a few times, and we'll touch on it a few more. The fact that 'Melia is "ruined" tells us that she is involved in some type of sexual relationship or relationships with wealthy men.
  • This could mean she has become a prostitute (yes, they had those in Victorian times) or that she is some rich guy's mistress.
  • Either way, there is a connection between sex, money, and ruin. No doubt about that, folks.
  • 'Melia, then, is doing some "work," but whether that is honest work or not is up in the air—at least for now.

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