The social distinctions of the Victorian period were another favorite theme of Hardy's, and we see it on full display in "The Ruined Maid." A woman from the country encounters a woman who now has money, nice clothes, and a better life. Even the way the two women speak clearly indicates the class divide that separates them, a divide that the other woman wants to cross. While the class divide can be bridged, the poem implies that such a journey is full of consequences. What sort, you ask? Oh, how about… ruin? Or the erection of a wall between one's old friends ('Melia seems very cold to her former friend)? Consequences indeed.
Questions About Society and Class
These women clearly belong to different classes. In what ways are they of the same gender "class"? Does this make the class distinction different?
Is 'Melia really acting like a snob? Or does she just not have a lot to say?
'Melia used to be poor. Does this make her newly acquired social status less legit? What do you think Victorian people would say about it? What would a modern audience say?
Do you detect any irony in 'Melia's semi-snobby comments? What about in the other woman's desire for nice clothes and feathers?
Chew on This
Nice try there, 'Melia, but people can't really completely move between social classes. Even though 'Melia has moved up, parts of her original identity still remain, as we see when she uses the word "ain't" at the end of the poem.
To be high class is also to be "ruined," in more ways than one. 'Melia seems to have forgotten what her life used to be like. Any sense of kindness or empathy seems to have been "ruined," as we gather from the way she treats her friend.