-"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.
"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.