Irony in 2 Short Excerpts in "The Ruined Maid"

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This poem has long been a favorite of mine. In playful verse, Hardy manages to make a life of sin seem more attractive than one of virtue. By contrasting Audrey and her grubby country life of drudgery with that of Amelia, the fallen woman with fine clothes and leisure, he suggests that virtue is its own reward. Audrey's parting comment about wishing she could enjoy such a life is countered by Amelia pointing out that she cannot unless she is also ruined. One wonders if Audrey follows in her friends footsteps. Incidently, Elsa Lanchester recorded this poem as a song on her Bawdy Cockney Songs album, some decades ago. It is a delightful ditty.

In ‘The Ruined Maid', which Hardy wrote in 1866, Hardy focuses on one woman's recent loss of chastity and how she is perceived by a once close friend who is returning to town. This ‘Maid' has found herself marring above her status and prostituting herself for riches and prosperity. Rather than feeling ashamed of her actions, she expresses a sense of pride in her self and confidence in her sex, much like a suffragettes attitude of the time. In the last line of each stanza, she points out how she is ruined; however, the tone of her various declarations is triumphant. For example, at the end of the third stanza she states, ‘A polish is gained with one's ruin'. This indicates that this ruined woman feels a sense of liberation and independence mirroring events in the late 19th century for women. After Hardy portrayed the idea of the fallen woman in this manner through his poetry, he proceeded to explore this idea within his novels as well.
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