At the beginning of the Victorian period women’s lives were very limited: they could not own money; they were their husband’s property, and if they had no male relatives to support them they were destitute. Among the few respectable jobs available were teaching and taking in embroidery, but these were poorly paid. Until 1863 girls were barred from sitting public examinations because the professional journal of doctors proclaimed that ‘Higher Education will produce flat-chested women unable to have babies’.
One in four Victorian women never married, which led to huge numbers of women living on the streets, begging and prostituting themselves. So, male Victorian writers and poets had two conflicting images of women: the pure, and the ruined. Imagery is a technique that is used frequently in ‘Cousin Kate’ and ‘The Ruined Maid’. In ‘Cousin Kate’ the maid says “even so I sit and howl in dust, you sit in gold and sing”. This creates an image of how bad Kate is feeling. The use of the word ‘howl’ gives us an understanding of how upset the maid is, and how bad she feels.Order now
It also makes us compare her crying to the sound of a wolf. There is also a lot of imagery in ‘The Ruined Maid’. Most of the imagery in ‘The Ruined Maid’ is about ‘Melia’s appearance and how she is so different since she has been ruined. Adjectives such as bright, gay, and delicate, build up a picture of Melia’s appearance. A lot of the language used in ‘Cousin Kate’ is symbolic. The maid says “you sit in gold and sing”. Gold is a symbol of wealth and riches; singing represents happiness. The maid is telling us that she feels lonely, dirty and unhappy.
‘The Ruined Maid’ does not use symbolism in the poem. ‘The Ruined Maid’ is a simple, satire poem, which used a lot of thyme and dialogue. Another technique used in both poems is repetition, which is mainly used for emphasis. In ‘Cousin Kate’ it repeats “why did a great lord find me out”. This stresses her distress over the situation. In ‘The Ruined Maid’ the words ‘ruined says she’, are repeated at the end of each verse, stressing the fact that she is ruined. In Cousin Kate the narrator feels ashamed by her relationship with the Lord.
She describes her life with his as ‘shameless, shameful’. Looking back on her relationship I think she feels dirty and used, because in the poem she says: “So now I moan an unclean thing, who might have been a dove”. The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ is quite proud of her son, despite becoming an outcast amongst her neighbours. She calls her son a ‘gift’ that Kate is not likely to get. She loves her son and is protective towards him. “My fair haired son, my shame, my pride, cling close, closer yet. ” In ‘The Ruined Maid’, by contrast she does not feel ashamed by her ruin.
‘Melia’ says to her old friend that they dress gayer and brighter when they are ruined. She also says that “Some polish is gained with one’s ruin”, “We never do work when we’re ruined” and “One’s pretty lively when ruined” – showing that she is better off now that she is ruined, because she “used to call home life a hag-ridden dream”, when she was “digging potatoes, and spudding up docks”. This poem by Thomas Hardy satirizes the Victorian view of prostitutes as doomed and ‘ruined’ women, and suggests that they may in fact be happy and refined.
Indeed, their high incomes and resulting financial independence made prostitutes the first feminists. Whereas in ‘Cousin Kate’, the narrator is devastated by her ruin because she used to work and farm and was happy with her friends and she loved her job. Melia in ‘The Ruined Maid’ despised her job, so is happier now she is ruined. The main contrast between these two poems is that ‘Cousin Kate’ is a serious love sonnet and the narrator is devastated by her ruin and ‘The Ruined Maid’s is a satire poem where Melia is happy and refined by her ruin.