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Stylistic analysis of THE RUINED MAID

by Thomas Hardy

The Ruined Maid is a poem by Thomas Hardy, which has a form of a dialogue
between two acquaintances who meet unexpectedly in town. In the first stanza unnamed
country girl expresses her surprise when she sees Melia, whom she used to know in the past.
Then she describes Melias life in the country and her physical appearance when she was
leaving it, clearly indicating the differences between the present and the past. Melias present
way of speaking is better than the former one, and she is well-dressed now, with a lot of
jewellery. The country girl is envious of her friend and says that she would like to be like her,
but Amelia replies that she would have to be ruined first.


by Thomas Hardy

1. "O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!

Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.
2. "You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.
3. "At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'thes oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!"
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.
4. "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.
5. "You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.
6. "I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!"
"My dear--a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.

The Ruined Maid comprises of six four-line stanzas. Throughout the poem the first
speaker has three lines of the quatrain, and the girl named Melia (probably the shorter form of
the name Amelia) is given a one-line response, but this structural parallelism, i.e. the
repetition of identical or similar syntactic patterns in neighbouring phrases or sentences
(Preminger, 2003: 877), is broken in the sixth stanza, where Amelias response has two lines.
The poem is written in an informal style, which is very suitable for the unexpected
conversation between two old friends.
In the poem we can notice the AABB full rhymes. According to Costa (1999), we can
distinguish here two types of rhymes in the first two lines of each stanza it is masculine
rhyme (i.e. stressed, single-syllable words), and in the two other lines it is the final vowel
sound /i:/ of the ending words that rhyme. In addition, some words in the third lines are
hyphenated (e.g. melancho-ly) which was probably done to mark the syllable that rhymes
with the word in the following line (Allen, 2011). The rhythm of the poem can be described as
lively and musical, due to the meter which is very regular almost every line consists of 11

Syntactic figures
The stylistic figure which is most frequently used in The Ruined Maid is the
repetition of the consonants, particularly at the beginning of words, i.e. alliteration (Cuddon,
1998: 23). We can note it in stanza 2 (tatters tired, digging docks), in stanza 3(thee thou
thik thes), in stanza 4 (blue bleak But bewitched by, and We work when
we're), in stanza 5 (sigh sock seem; megrims melancho-ly), in stanza 6 (feathers fine
face). Moreover, there are some examples of consonance, which means consonants repeated
before or after different vowel sounds (Cuddon, 1998: 176), e.g. tatters shoes socks
docks, tired and, left without (all in stanza 2), or strut about (stanza 6). And the last
phonetic stylistic figure found in the work is assonance, i.e. the repetition of vowels (Cuddon,
1998: 58), like in stanza 2: spudding up. All these contribute greatly to the musical effect of
the poem.
In The Ruined Maid each stanza ends in the same way , said she. It is a verbal
repetition at the ends of sentences or clauses, called epistrophe (Cuddon, 1998: 279).
Additionally, we can see here the inversion of the clause pattern (said she instead of she
said) according to Costa (1999), by this fronting the poet places the pronoun she in a
foregrounding position, allowing the reader to realise that she is the main character. There
is also another kind of verbal repetition in the poem, which is homoioteleuton a grammatical
rhyme due to the same inflectional endings (Preminger, 2003: 538). We can find it in the
second stanza: Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks, which clearly forms an
internal rhyme and contributes to the rhythm of the poem.
What is also noticeable is polysyndetic construction in the lines uttered by the first
speaker in stanzas 2, 3, 5 and 6, for example: At home in the barton you said 'thee' and

'thou,' And 'thik oon,' and 'thes oon,' and 't'other'; (). Polysyndeton means that the
sentences are joined by the use of the same conjunction, usually and, which may add
emphasis to the items in an enumeration (Preminger, 2003: 968).
Intentional omission of some words in sentences, i.e. ellipsis (Cuddon, 1998: 256), is
another syntactic device used in The Ruined Maid. In stanza 4 in Your hands were like
paws then, your face blue and bleak it is obvious that the missing word is was, which
should stand after face. And in stanza 6 (the missing elements are in the brackets): I wish I
had feathers, (I wish I had) a fine sweeping gown, And (I wish I had) a delicate face, and (I
wish I) could strut about Town!.
We can also find two examples of enjambment, i.e. the situation when a part of a
sentence moves to another line (Preminger, 2003: 359). We can see it in stanza 3:
"And 'thik oon,' and 'thes oon,' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!",
and in stanza 5:
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly

Semantic figures
As far as semantic figures in The Ruined Maid are concerned, in the fourth stanza
we can find simile, a figure of speech in which you compare things explicitly, using like or
as (Cuddon, 1998: 830): Your hands were like paws then. The opposition to simile is
metaphor, a semantic figure in which you name one thing by the name of another (Cuddon,
1998: 507). In the third stanza high compa-ny is a metaphor for the people from higher
social class who are now around Amelia and influence her way of living. The most important,
however, is the admiration expressed by the raw country girl for Amelias life striking
here is the fact that if a girl wants a better life she will have to become ruined first, which is
somewhat paradoxical. It is shown, for example, in the first stanza:
() And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.
or in the second stanza:
() And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.
or in the fifth stanza: One's pretty lively when ruined (). The idea of being ruined is
metaphorical in the sense that the ruined woman was, in fact, a prostitute, which meant that
she had virtually no chance for marriage (Allen, 2011).
Although Amelias language have improved, we can find two examples of
ungrammatical combination of words in her utterances both from the last stanza: such as
you be (for you are), and You ain't ruined (for you arent ruined). Such nonstandard
usage of grammatical constructions is called solecism (Cuddon, 1998: 838), and in this case it
shows that in spite of the change in Amelias appearance and better speaking she cannot hide
her low class, rural origin (Costa, 1999).

The Ruined Maid has a number of words which reappear in different positions:
Town (stanza 1 and 6), feathers (stanza 2 and 6), fits (stanza 3) and fit (stanza 4),
quite (stanza 3 and 6), and delicate (stanza 4 and 6). Repeating these words aims at
drawing readers attention to what is happening in the poem. One can also easily note the
collection of words which are closely related to womens clothing: feathers, bracelets,
dress, sweeping gown, gloves this, in turn, assures the reader of the fact that the poem
is about women (Costa, 1999).
What also contributes to the meaning of the text is the use of words related to the
person, time or place of utterance, and it is called deixis (Cuddon, 1998: 215). There are many
of them found in Hardys poem, e.g. I, you, she, we, your, us, now, then, this,
that. These are expressions which cannot be understood without context, but as we read
through we become aware of some facts. Therefore, in "You ain't ruined," said she, we
know that you indicates the girl who speaks first in the poem, and she means Amelia
(Costa, 1999).

Thomas Hardys The Ruined Maid is considered to be a great portrayal of
womanhood in Victorian times (Allen, 2011). A raw country girl could not expect high
standard of living. The only possible way of having a better life was to ruin herself
becoming a prostitute, losing her moral values and purity. This analysis shows us that all the
stylistic devices used in the poem, all the words, meanings and syntactic patterns play an
important role in creating a perfect imagery of the ruined woman in Victorian era. And all
this is conveyed in a simple dialogue with a note of irony - Amelia says that she is ruined, yet
her old friend admires her new life and wants to be like her. The elaborate use of language by
Hardy helps the reader understand this complicated idea of being ruined and living in
prosperity at the same time.

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Available on: http://www.humanities360.com/index.php/a-close-look-at-thomas-hardyspoem-the-ruined-maid-14784/. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Costa, Dominique. (1999). Language through poetry: A stylistic analysis of Thomas Hardys
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Vivas no Ensino Superior em Portugal. Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Letras. 215-222
[online]. Available on: http://ler.letras.up.pt/uploads/ficheiros/6083.pdf. Accessed February 5,
Cuddon, J. A. (1998). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory.
Penguin Books: London.
Hardy, Thomas. (1901). The Ruined Maid [online]. Available on:
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-ruined-maid/. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Preminger, A. et al. (eds.). (2003). The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.