Dr. Karen C. Holt
Literary Analysis: “The Ruined Maid”
Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Ruined Maid” introduces its reader to the harsh reality of lower class Victorian Women. Critical scrutiny through a feminist lens helps widen the scope of understanding to reveal beyond the satirical irony of the writing and bring to light the deep rooted social issue of Victorian England’s paralyzing poverty and its effects on women. In Critical Theory Today feminist criticism is explained as, "...the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (Tyson). “The Ruined Maid” clearly challenges society’s cruel treatment of women in the social class by contrasting two seemingly different women who in the end are more alike as victims of England’s failure than they could have imagined. Biography
Thomas Hardy was one of the few who recognized the extensive inequalities that men held over women and then took the initiative to speak out against the issue. Hardy was born in 1840 in Dorset, England. Despite being raised in a lower income family, Hardy did all he could to take advantage of all educational opportunities. Between his father’s love of music and his mothers love for the written word Hardy developed a life-long passion for culture, music and literature, in all their different forms. While Hardy was working as an apprentice to an architect he took advantage of the culture around in the city around him, attending museums, social events and theatre, expanding his love of literature and life (Gibson). In 1862 Hardy enrolled in King’s College in London. There he excelled in his architectural endeavors, however, Hardy never felt quite at home in London. He was acutely away of the class division and his inferiority amongst his peers. He became fascinated with the social reform in London. Becoming worried about his health, Hardy returned to Dorset to recover. This is when he began to dedicate himself to his writings. Hardy, like Dickens, was highly critical of Victorian society. His fearlessness in challenging society was often expressed in the form of dramatic dialogues in his poetry. “The Ruined Maid” is one of his more famous examples that uses a satirical approach to bring attention to the prominent social problem Hardy saw in the poor conditions of the position of women in England and their inability to overcome their inevitable poverty during the Victorian Era (Gibson). Poetic Devices
Hardy uses an AABB rhyme scheme all throughout the poem. This effect adds to the satire of the poem. As the poem is read a jovial undertone of an odd nursery rhyme is present because of the AABB rhyme scheme as well as the rhythm. The innocence of the rhythm and rhyme draw attention to reality of this poem and the harshness of life for women in the Victorian Era. Hardy plays with the words such as “thik oon,” (10) “t’other,” (10) and “la-dy” (15). By strategically using the sounds of the words and letters the thick cockney accent of the farm worker as she speaks to the now more proper “la-dy” is very obvious and creates a strong contrast between the two. The varying repetition of the last line in each of the four stanzas weaves the message of the poem together. The woman in the city, though fine and soft, has been “ruined”; she boldly exclaims it five times. Hardy uses a great deal of imagery and simile through his county woman’s voice. She paints a picture of ‘Melia as she exclaims her surprise in the difference of her former co-worker. "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak/But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek” (13-14). This description shows that the change of ‘Melia was quite drastic. Background
In England the station to which one was born dictated nearly every aspect of daily life. The double standard for men and women should have...
Cited: Gibson, James. Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life. London: Macmillan, 1996. Print.
Hardy, Thomas All Poetry. “The Ruined Maid.” 2012. Web. 15 Feb 2013.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today. New York: Taylor & Francis Group. 2006. Print
Walkowitz, Judith R. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1980. Print
Wojtczak, Helena. The Victorian Web. “Women of the Lower Working Class” 2000. Web. 27 Mar 2013.
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