1. Who is the speaker in lines 1-3? Describe her.

2. Who is the speaker in line 4? Describe her.

3. In what ways is the refrain ("'ruined?' said she") ironic?

4. What are some of the important differences between the two speakers?

5. Where does this dialogue apparently take place? How do we know?

6. What is the conventional (nineteenth-century) meaning of "ruined maid"?

7. Sum up the attitude of each speaker towards the other.

8. What details about the "new 'Melia" does the other (unnamed) speaker dwell on?

9. If "melior" in Latin means "better," what is the significance of the name "'Melia" in this poem?

10. In losing her rural Dorset dialect, 'Melia has supposedly gained sophistication — what, however, may "ain't" in the last line suggest about her?

11. What two ways of life does the poem contrast? Which is to be preferred, and why?

12. What, according to Hardy (at least by implication), makes a woman a "lady"? What is the chief difference between Hardy's implicit definition and your dictionary's?

13. Explain how the term "contrapuntal" may be applied to this double-voiced poem?

14. If "The Ruined Maid" is a satire, explain what or whom Hardy is satirizing, and with what intention?

15. How does the poem's rhyme scheme complement the dual voices?

16. Why does Hardy give 'Melia the last two lines of the poem, rather than merely one, as in the other stanzas?

17. Explain which of the following terms is most suitable for 'Melia: kept woman, courtesan, mistress, or prostitute.

18. Why does 'Melia treat her former friend with hauteur?

19. Explain the meaning and significance of the dialectal expressions in the poem.

20. Why is the unnamed speaker surprised that 'Melia's "little gloves fit" so tightly and fashionably?

21. Consider the 1857 illustration from Punch entitled "The Great Social Evil," then attempt to formulate its relationship to the poem, given the following information.

In 1879, reports Paul Turner in The Life of Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (2001), thirty-nine-year-old Hardy "wrung what amusement he could from a conversation heard in a bookshop, studied jokes in Punch, and later suggested one for George du Maurier to illustrate" (67), so that we have confirmation that the author was conversant with the magazine of London humour and social criticism a dozen years after writing "The Ruined Maid." At the time of composition of the poem, Hardy was living at 16 Westbourne Park Villas, but Michael Millgate in Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited (2004) concludes that "most of the surviving poems assigned dates in 1865 and 1866 do indeed appear to have been first written in those years" (90), so that we cannot be at all confident in asserting a causal relationship between the Punch cartoon of 1857, "the Great Social Evil" (vol. 33). However, John Hicks's young apprentice-architect was then dividing his time between the relatively secluded cottage at Higher Bockhampton and the more sophisticated Dorchester, where London periodicals such as Punch were readily available. It is not inconceivable, then, that seventeen-year-old Hardy saw the picture, stored it in his memory (or even cut and pasted it into a notebook) for the basis of a poem he would write nine years later.

[J. L[eech?]. The Great Social Evil. Click on thumbnail for more information and larger image.

Immediately apparent are the significant features of the cartoon — the fashionably-dressed, made-up Fanny, with her hand on her hip, leaning on a doorway in the vicinity of The Haymarket Theatre, where operas were staged; and the timid, dirty-faced Bella, her head covered in a country kerchief and her skirts raised lest she foul them in the mud of the London street. Noteworthy as a sort of internal comment by the artist about the nature of being "gay" is the theatrical poster in the background advertising La Traviata. How do the time of night, the locale, the contrasting dress and postures of the young women, the term "gay," and the opera all contribute to the cartoon's theme? How does the Victorian meaning of "gay" in the context of sexuality differ from its meaning today?

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Last modified 30 January 2006