Goblin Market: Penalties of Forbidden Sexuality

Sexuality in the Victorian Age has some connection to that of the Romantics; however, the Victorians reserve a conservativeness that sets them apart. Christine Rossetti’s Goblin Market defies the confinements of the Victorian age while romantically critiquing what takes place in the dark outside of the regality of social circles in relation to forbidden sexuality. Rossetti provides the reader with a glimpse of the subversive culture of the Victorians within Goblin Market ; she seamlessly exposes what is valued in Victorian culture and the dark nature of human sexuality, within the catacombs of the age.

Christine Rossetti explores deviant sexuality in the Victorian age with an odd but seamless metaphor that has powerful implications. The context of the fruit in Goblin Market has explicit sexual connotations that lend to an instructive and more importantly, cautioning perspective on sexual activity. Rossetti’s Goblin Market is constructed in a cautionary tale form comprehensively, being that it introduces the reader to an issue, displays a warned however still unsuspecting victim, and the ensuing consequences. “Despite Lizzie's warnings, the goblins successfully lure Laura into giving them a lock of her golden hair in exchange for a feast of luscious fruit.(3)”

Before one can understand the cautionary implications of the fruit in relation to its reference to abhorrent sexuality, one must explore Rossetti’s introduction of the origin of them, the goblin men. The goblin men open the poem with their cadenced chant entailing the wares of their moving market, “Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy.(1)” These goblin men represent the recurring temptations of sexual exploration. The temptations are deemed negative in nature because of by whom they are reared, goblins. Goblins are not inviting creatures; they are fabled to be deceitful, unattractive and bane entities.

The fact that goblins are selling things alone should suffice to warn one to keep clear of them and more importantly what they are marketing. It becomes evident in the text of Goblin Market that these creatures are not to be trusted or dealt with when Lizzie warns her sister Laura to look away from them, and not be tempted by their wares or their words. This is a more than obvious proclamation that there are things to be aware of enough to omit from ones life, such as sexuality that is agreed as wrong or distasteful; and for the Victorian, taste is a prerequisite of culture.

Rossetti sets up the connotative qualities of the fruit in segments before eventually revealing a ravenous sexual appetite spurred by the partaking of forbidden fruit, or in the context of the analogy, engaging in repugnant sexual acts. One of the moments in Goblin Market that initiates the negative qualities of the fruit is the fact that once Laura tries to get fruit from the goblin men, she has no money; however, the goblin men exploit her beauty and offer to take a lock of her hair. ““Buy from us with a golden curl.” She clipped a precious golden lock.(2)”

Interpretation of the literature directly discloses that the goblin men are ultimately after a much more valuable payment than gold or silver, but that of one’s beauty. The goblins much prefer to take what makes Laura beautiful because their existence is bane in nature. This contributes a much more sinister quality to their character. Analyzing the interpretation to the analogy, it is apparent that the goblins, representing temptation, take ones innocence and therefore beauty when engaged upon. Because Laura indulged in detestable temptations, she had to give a lock of her hair and in a broad sense a part of her innocence. 

Rossetti continues to create this duality of the fruit being what they are and what they represent with the description of how good the fruit are. The fruit are imbued with this comprehensive desire to be had because they are forbidden. It is the idea that what is not allowed are sometimes the things that people want more, simply because they are forbidden, “Men sell not such in any town.(1)” These fruit are rare and have an abnormal existence for the fact that they cannot even be grown in the geographical area that the poem is set in. The fruit are also odd because of who are selling them, goblin men.

Finally Rossetti draws the comparison of the fruit with dangerously possessive qualities that mirror the apparent addiction that comes along with engaging in forbidden acts. It is as if once an individual starts to be a part of particular sexual realms, it is nearly impossible to break free.  “She sucked and sucked and sucked the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore, She sucked until her lips were sore,(1)” this has obvious connotations to oral sex. It is akin to drug addiction the manner by which Laura partakes of the fruit. She is ravenous and cannot restrain herself so much that she hurts her mouth simply to take as much as she can of this other-worldly fruit. The possessive qualities of the fruit are 

Goblin Market’s treatment of fruit also calls to mind the symbolism of fruit in the complexities of the biblical fall of Adam and Eve. The fruit are a temptation upon which Laura is warned not to partake in because it will have dire consequences. Much like Eve, Laura cannot resist the temptation to partake of the forbidden fruit. The comparison is clear on multiple grounds. First, like Eve, Laura is told not to partake and adhere to the warning of her sister, however, she cannot. Second, Laura is tempted repeatedly not by a serpent, but two goblin men. Laura after partaking in forbidden fruit is now subject to needing them to survive, however, she cannot have access to them because once the evil goblin men have let her become addicted, she begins to wither away. Laura looses the beauty she once had and the lively life she lived because she needed something so dark and impure to feel happy or alive. “It is interesting to note that it is Laura — perhaps named after Petrarch's courtly ideal (Bentley 72) — who becomes the fallen woman, partaking of the forbidden fruit.(2)”

 Eve lost her perfect home to a life full of pain and struggle. In the context of the analogy of sexuality, it appears the Rossetti is making the argument that once one engages in abnormal sexual activities, or those upon which Victorians frowned, it is easy to lose control of oneself. It is a proclamation that even simply trying something wrong once can have dire consequences.

The fall of Adam and Eve complex is laden even further within the text of Goblin Market. There is a prevalent theme within the text that lends to a Christ complex; “The sisters' extremely close relationship enables them to defeat the mysteriously evil workings of the goblins.(3)” Lizzie is a representative of sacredness and wholeheartedly the ideal female in Victorian culture. She abstains from questionable activity and tries to protect her sister from being dragged into the evil plot of their serpents in the form of fruit selling goblins.

Lizzie is symbolic of Christ. She is this individual who is determined not to be tempted by sin, and even teaches those around her, in this case, her sister Laura what not to do. Even after Laura is tempted and becomes addicted to the forbidden fruit, Lizzie makes a daring effort to save her sister. Apparently, the only way that Laura would survive is to partake of the fruit in a different manner, perhaps from the hands of the pure Christ-like sister Lizzie. Lizzie meets with  the mischievous goblin men and faces temptation to her face, and is even subject to being forced to eat, but as great as the temptations prove to be, Lizzie refuses, and rushes home with the juice of fruit upon her face to save her sister and restore what life she had left. “Further evidence for this idea can be found in the bond between Laura and Lizzie. If Lizzie is a redemptive Christ-figure, it would be necessary for there to be a relational separation between them after Laura eats the fruit, in order to symbolise the separation between God and humankind at the Fall, and this would need to be combined with a sense of shame on Laura's part.(2)”

 This is obviously akin to a relationship with Christ. Jesus Christ teaches Christians about the ills of the world; he warns all of his followers of such evils as the goblin men. Because Christ is this benevolent character who wants the best for all of humanity, he realizes that humans are what they are and will forever make mistakes. It is the love of Christ that would redeem an individual who strays into what Victorians may have deemed as sexual perversity. Lizzie redeems her sister Laura much in the same way Christ would redeem.

Lizzie heals her sister with the juice of fruit she is brave enough to retrieve because she loves her sister so much. Christ loves humanity enough to save them so much that he died on the cross so that people would have the possibility of having everlasting life.  Rossetti uses this duality of understanding Christ and the struggles of Christians to convey her message of sexual conservatism.

Sexual depravity here in Goblin Market seems to be a critique of the sexual activities of the Victorians. It appears that Rossetti is making an effort to call out the hypocrisy of the period. Victorians are known for their conservativeness and incredibly rigid guidelines for conduct. The guidelines for conduct shifted between socio-economic classes and the different aspects of each of those classes. For instance, there would be different manners upon which one from an aristocratic class must adhere to at a gathering for dinner than it is for a working class individual who would not be at an aristocratic gathering in the first place. America in the development of the suburbia in the 1950’s shortly after World War II attempted to recapture the conservativeness of the Victorians. If one analyzes culture closely, the Victorian culture is many times still prevalent in modern American culture. It is for this reason there are such varying opinions on sexual minority groups such as the LGBTQ community.

Christine Rossetti uses mythical creatures and biblical connotations to get across her message of conservatism to perhaps what was a changing time in the Victorian age. Perhaps Rossetti wanted to preserve the culture that she was accustomed to, or did not want to see it eradicated because there was such perversion going on in the dark once the social circles were not looking. Perhaps she realized that what happens in the dark always comes to the light, and apparently that indulging in unhealthy activity can sicken individuals and ultimately entire societies. Goblin Market is an amazing piece that really strikes at the heart of the Victorian age because it clearly takes note of the insecurities and struggles of people in the period. Every person is expected to live this pristine life and follow many unwritten rules and it be an easy endeavor. Rossetti speaks for the people who are suffering in her period with the values that are respected and their desires to partake of forbidden fruit. She offers them reconciliation through Christ.

Works Cited

1.Rossetti, Christine. "The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti." Welcome to Plexipages . Web. 07 Apr. 2011. <http://plexipages.com/reflections/goblin.html>.

2.Scholl, Lisa. "Fallen or Forbidden: Rosetti's "Goblin Market"" The Victorian Web: An Overview . Web. 07 Apr. 2011. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/scholl.html>.

3.Flygar, Juli. "Intertwining Themes in "Goblin Market"" The Victorian Web: An Overview . Web. 07 Apr. 2011. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/flygare6.html>.

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