Thomas Hardy frequently talked about the role of women in Victorian society, and he never had a lot of good things to say about it. "The Ruined Maid" is one of his most famous discussions of women and femininity in the period. The poem paints a bleak picture of country life (which Victorians loved to make seem like a total walk in the park). It paints an even bleaker picture of the way out of that life. 'Melia, for example, has moved up in the world, but only because she has "ruined" herself. That leaves us wondering, should 'Melia and women like her just have accepted their lot in life? Is risking social ostracism worth it? Can a Shmooper get a "none of the above"?
Questions About Women and Femininity
What do you make of all the talk about clothing in this poem? Why is it in there?
Does 'Melia seem like kind of a snob to you? Does she resemble a woman who has forgotten where she came from and has no time for her old pals? Why or why not?
What do you make of the other woman? Does she seem lady-like? Un-lady-like? Why do you think so? What do you think a Victorian audience would say about her?
How about this conversation that is the poem? Does it resemble a conversation you'd actually hear between women somewhere? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Both women in this poem are ruined—'Melia, because she has compromised her sexual innocence and the speaker, because she must slave away on the farm. There doesn't seem to be any way out. Bad times, gang.
Hardy's poem suggests that women in his time were ruined through no fault of their own. They were ruined because of the social codes of their era and the very limited options available to them. Take that, Victorians.