What Is a Summary of "The Ruined Maid" by Thomas Hardy?

In the poem "The Ruined Maid," two girls who once worked together on a farm meet up, and what follows is how their lives have diverged. One of the girls still works on the farm, but the other turned to a life of prostitution, or is considered "ruined."

Thomas Hardy wrote "The Ruined Maid" in 1866. He used it to focus on the difficulties of young girls in England who were forced into prostitution. In the late 1800s, it is estimated that as much as 20 percent of young girls supported themselves through prostitution.

The poem consists of six stanzas, each with only four lines. The unnamed farm girl speaks in the first three lines and 'Melia, the "ruined maid," replies in the last line of each. She does not seem to be ashamed of her trade. In fact, she states it in a matter-of-fact and, some may say, quite proud manner in the first stanza. The farm maid speaks somewhat enviously of 'Melia's clothing, the way she speaks and her skin, especially her soft hands. 'Melia's reply is simply that everything is a direct result of being "ruined," and the farm girl cannot expect to have anything similar because she is not "ruined."