The Ruined Maid By Jonathan Swift Essay

The Ruined Maid By Jonathan Swift Essay

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Prostitution has long been present in society for easily thousands of years, even garnering it the title of the world’s oldest profession; throughout the course of time and different cultures, prostitution has gained many various stigmas and traditional thoughts it is associated with. As with many other subjects ingrained in cultures, prostitution is widely present in literature. Two poems come to mind at the mention of prostitution and literature. Jonathan Swift’s poem, “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed”, written in 1734, and Thomas Hardy’s poem written in 1857, “The Ruined Maid”, both tell the tale of a female prostitute, though in strikingly different lights. The impoverished and diseased Corinna from Swift’s poem is nearly the exact opposite of Hardy’s relatively well off ‘Melia. The extreme differences between the two prostitutes’ lives might seem to indicate that only one of these portrayals is accurate, however that is not the case. Swift and Hardy’s poems may show two very different conditions of female prostitutes in England, but neither of their portrayals are anymore inaccurate than another; both Corinna and ‘Melia’s stories are very real and plausible.
Swift’s “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” was written in and most likely takes place in during the 1730s, in Georgian England. At the time, English society was much more accepting of prostitution than it was generally in later periods, often given leniency in legal prosecution and regarded fairly well by the urban poor (Robinson). The concept of prostitution was widley regarded as a necessary part of society due in part to the economic struggles of the urban poor, which was what social class the majority of prostitutes were from (Robinson). This more positive s...


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...nizing the aspects of truth behind the lives of Corinna and ‘Melia lies in the theme both of these poems can be interpreted as having when read together. Through Swift’s bawdy lyrics, the truth of the conditions of some prostitutes’ lives is brought to life; there are prostitutes and sex workers who live tortuous lives, suffering much like how the Victorians believed these “fallen women” to have suffered. In Hardy’s poem, there is the overarching notion that not everything is as it appears to be; ‘Melia is “ruined”, having lost her sexual morality, yet she seems to be very content and successful in life. Both of these poems present very important stances. The glamorous side of prostitution cannot be allowing for the grimy parts of it to be overlooked, and in turn, the ugly sides of the issue cannot overpower the good that can come from prostitution as a career choice.

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