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Temptation, Redemption and Sisterhood in Rossetti’s Goblin Market Pt. 2

Updated on June 28, 2012
D.G. Rossetti, illustration from the 1865, 2nd edition of Goblin Market and Other Poems (Macmillan).
D.G. Rossetti, illustration from the 1865, 2nd edition of Goblin Market and Other Poems (Macmillan). | Source

Sexual Promiscuity in Goblin Market

As has been noted by other scholars, the language used to describe Laura’s consumption of the forbidden goblin fruit is very sensual (eNotes). Laura “…sucked their fruit globes fair or red:/Sweeter than honey from the rock” and “She sucked and sucked and sucked the more/…She sucked until her lips were sore;” (128,129,134,136). When Laura returns home, her concerned sister greets her with “wise upbraidings:” reminding her of Jeanie, who once sampled the goblins’ fruit, then

…pined and pined away;

Sought them by night and day

Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey;

Then fell with the first snow,

While to this day no grass will grow

Where she lies low: (154-159).

Later on, when Laura pines away from “balked desire” (266), Lizzie again thinks

…of Jeanie in her grave

Who should have been a bride;

But who for joys brides hope to have

Fell sick and died (312-315).

Laura, like Jeanie before her, has now tasted sexual pleasures properly reserved for married women, and is in danger of wasting away because her erstwhile seducers have abandoned her.

In her essay, "Christina Rossetti and Anna Eliza Bray — Fashioning a New Form of Fairy Tale in "Goblin Market"’, Lexi Stuckey makes a comparison between a tale written by Rossetti’s cousin, Anna Eliza Bray, and Goblin Market. In Bray’s story, “The Lady of the Silver Bell”, a young woman named Serena is seduced by the song of a fairy, which so entrances her that she is severely distressed (Stuckey). Unhappily, the girl drowns while attempting to remove the fairy’s curse by following the advice of a wizard (Stuckey). Stuckey notes that in “The Lady of the Silver Bell”, the only female confidant actually leads the unlucky heroine to her doom, rather than salvation (Stuckey). For Serena, “the wages of sin is death” without the possibility of redemption (Rom. 6:23 KJV). Rossetti is not so hard on her foolish maiden, allowing Lizzie to provide an avenue of escape for her smitten sister (Stuckey).

George Gershinowitz, "She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth." Illustration for Christinia Rossetti (London: Harrap, 1933).
George Gershinowitz, "She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth." Illustration for Christinia Rossetti (London: Harrap, 1933). | Source

Allegory and Cautionary Tale

Goblin Market has often been read as a Christian allegory and/or a Victorian morality tale, which it almost certainly is. The forbidden fruit hawked by the goblins, Laura’s spiritual and emotional malaise after partaking of it, and Lizzie’s role as her sister’s redeemer all lean toward the allegorical (Scholl). Laura is not a traditional sinner, however, and Lizzie is not a perfect “Female Christ.” As Scholl points out, “…Laura experiences neither guilt nor shame” as one would expect in a morality tale. Also, as has been previously mentioned, there is no estrangement between the sisters after Laura’s indiscretion, as there would be if Lizzie were portraying “a redemptive Christ-figure” (Scholl).

Lizzie, then, is a true sister, more concerned with the health and well-being of her beloved Laura than in judging or correcting her (Scholl). Lizzie even “Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,/But feared to pay too dear (310). At last, fearing that “…Laura dwindling/Seemed knocking at Death’s door”, Lizzie puts “a silver penny in her purse” and ventures forth to seek the goblin men (320,321,324). In language as sensual as any she has used yet, Rossetti tells how the goblins “Hugged her and kissed her,/Squeezed and caressed her” (eNotes, Rossetti 348,349). When Lizzie refuses to eat the goblins’ fruit, they become angry, first heaping verbal insults on her, then growing more violent and insistent (383-407). The scene that follows seems much like an attempted rape, and also parallels the tormenting of Christ, as the goblins:

…trod and hustled her,

Elbowed and jostled her,

Clawed with their nails,

Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,

Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,

Twitched her hair out by the roots,

Stamped upon her tender feet,

Held her hands and squeezed their fruits

Against her mouth to make her eat (399-407).

Standing firm in the midst of their assault, Lizzie does not partake of the fruit, and eventually the vanquished goblins, “Flung back her penny....” (439) and disappeared (410-446).

Returning to Laura covered in scratches, bruises and fruit juice, Lizzie bids her sister: Come and kiss me.

Never mind my bruises,

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices

Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,

Goblin pulp and goblin dew.

Eat me, drink me, love me;

Laura, make much of me;

For your sake I have braved the glen

And I had to do with goblin merchant men (466-474).

Though provocative-sounding, the preceding passage is much more likely an allusion to the last supper and the first communion than to a sexual encounter (Matt. 26:26-29).

Arthur Rackham, "White and golden Lizzie stood," from "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti (London: Harrap, 1933).
Arthur Rackham, "White and golden Lizzie stood," from "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti (London: Harrap, 1933). | Source

Finding Rossetti's Social Gospel

The section of Goblin Market which often causes interpreters trouble begins after Laura kisses and sucks the smashed fruit pulp and juices from her sister’s face (493-523). How to explain why the same juices that caused her malady should be the cure, and why what had before seemed so sweet should become “wormwood to her tongue” (494)? Like a sinner who awakens to his sin, an addict who comes to loathe the drug or a person who realizes she has made a bad investment, Laura’s second taste of the tantalizing goblin fruit caused her to realize her error. Before, there had been no remorse, only longing (Scholl). Now, “She gorged on bitterness without a name:/Ah! Fool to choose such part/of soul-consuming care!” (510-512). Laura at last realizes how foolish she has been to fall under the sway of the goblins’ false promises, and now her soul is subjected to the painful flame of conviction. What woman, on realizing how badly she has been deceived by some amoral man, and admitting her own willing part in the ordeal, has not felt bitterness and self-recrimination?

Laura’s realization of her own folly and her repentance leads to “Life out of death” (524). Watched over by her faithful sister, Laura recovers her previous vitality, and something of her former innocence (537-542). Laura is even able to enjoy marriage and motherhood later in life, a symbol of her full return to the status of “respectable” woman (Scholl). Far from being ostracized and judged for being a “fallen woman”, Laura experiences acceptance and sacrificial love, allowing her to move on and continue in society (Scholl).

The complete absence of human men in the story, coupled with Laura’s later assertion that “There is no friend like a sister”, conveys a message of female self-reliance. Laura was not saved by some gallant man offering marriage, or even a pious cleric. Rather, “fallen women” must effect their own rehabilitation, aided by the sisterly love and acceptance of other women.

Goblin Market is a tale of how one woman succumbs to the wiles of evil men, and how she is saved by the love and sacrifice of her sister. Rossetti’s poem is as much social gospel as it is Christian allegory. “Fallen women” are not doomed to remain so, and neither are they to be ostracized and cast out of society. If moral women will only show Christ-like love and perseverance to their tainted fellows, a full recovery can be made and the Laura’s of the world can go on to live “normal,” virtuous lives (Scholl).

Works Cited

Blue Letter Bible. "Gospel of Matthew 26 - (KJV - King James Version)." Blue Letter Bible. 1996- 2012. 21 Feb 2012.

Blue Letter Bible. "Paul's Epistle - Romans 6 - (KJV - King James Version)." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2012. 21 Feb 2012.

Damrosch, David, and Kevin Dettmar, ed. "Christina Rossetti" The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Vol. 2B. Boston, MA: Longman, 2010. 1643. Print.

"Goblin Market, Christina Georgina Rossetti - Introduction." Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Gerald R. Barterian and Denise Evans. Vol. 66. Gale Cengage, 1998. 21 Feb, 2012

Helsinger, Elizabeth K. "Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire: Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”." ELH. 58.4 (1991): 903. Print.

Morrison, Ronald, D. ""Their fruits like honey in the throat / But poison in the blood": Christina Rossetti and The Vampyre." Weber: The Contemporary West. 14.2. (1997): n. page. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Rossetti, C. G. "Goblin Market" The Longman Anthology British Literature. Vol. 2B. Damrosch, David, and Kevin Dettmar, ed. Boston, MA: Longman, 2010. 1650-1663. Print.

Scholl, Lesa. "Fallen or Forbidden: Rosetti's "Goblin Market"." Victorian Web., 23 Dec 2003. Web. 21 Feb 2012.

Stuckey, Lexi. "Christina Rossetti and Anna Eliza Bray — Fashioning a New Form of Fairy Tale in "Goblin Market"." Victorian Web., 02 Dec 2007. Web. 21 Feb 2012.


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