decorated initial 'I'n "Goblin Market" (1862) Christina Rossetti tells the story of two innocent sisters and their interactions with insidious goblins. The sisters' extremely close relationship enables them to defeat the mysteriously evil workings of the goblins. Rossetti describes the goblins as half-man and half-animal creatures with characteristics and features of felines, rodents and birds. The goblins creep around the brook near the sisters' house chanting repeatedly for them to "Come buy our orchard fruits, / Come buy, come buy" (line 3-4). One of the sisters, Lizzie, informs the other sister, Laura, not to even look at the evil creatures. 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. Upon eating the fruit, Laura experienced an intense moment (perhaps of ecstasy) that left her in a state where she "knew not was it night or day" (line 139). Laura returns to her sister who again warns her of the goblins' harm, but this warning comes too late. The yearning for more of the tainted fruit fully occupies Laura's mind. The two sisters go to sleep together with "cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest"(line 197-198). Although they sleep as physically close as possible, their minds reside in very different places.

The next day, Laura is shocked to find no goblins and no succulent fruit in the glen. Surprisingly, only Lizzie can hear the insistent cries of the goblins. Laura falls into depression and sickness when she realizes that she may not experience the fruits again. Lizzie anxiously watches her sister's health deteriorate until she can no longer stand it. At this point, she takes a coin and heads to the glen to buy fruit for her sister in hopes of reviving Laura's well being. In a moving passage, Rossetti brutally illustrates the rude and invasive behavior of the goblins as they try to force Lizzie to eat the fruit. Lizzie holds strong, knowing to absolutely resist the fruit, but she lets the juices of the fruit stick to her body to bring home to her sister. Upon returning, Lizzie invites Laura to "hug me, kiss me, suck my juices" (line 468). Lizzie feasts upon her sister's skin, taking in all the nectars. The juices sparked a moment of both bliss and suffering.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?

Lizzie sleeps off this dramatic moment and by the morning, she has completely recovered to her original self. The two sisters live to be married and each tell their children the story of their sisterly love and sacrifice prevailing over beasts of evil.

Question

Rossetti's word choice in "Goblin's Market" consistently gives rise to many sexual connotations. She describes sensual parts of the body such as lips, breasts and cheeks. She also utilizes verbs such as to hug, kiss, squeeze and suck. Sexual connotations heighten the relationship between the male goblins and female maidens. Laura's ecstatic experience with the goblin's fruit is an indescribable high that is almost orgasmic. The goblins' over-invasive and aggressive advances towards Lizzie could represent sexual invasion such as rape. In addition to these sexual relations, there is an erotic undertone to the close relationship of the two sisters. Rossetti describes their sleeping positions to be so intimate and connected. In addition, the climatic description of the physical interaction as Laura shares the goblins' juices with Lizzie could have erotic implications. These sexual implications would have been apparent to the poem's Victorian English audience. As a female poet, Rossetti makes a bold statement about female sexuality in her time, perhaps addressing issues that would have been considered hush-hush and taboo. Do these implications change or twist the wholesome "sisterly love" theme of the poem? Can the erotic interpretation and the chaste and virginal interpretation be reconciled?

Rossetti fills "Goblin's Market" with subject matter and themes that has strong religious associations. There is an important theme of temptation similar to Eve's temptation in the Old Testament. Laura is slyly enticed to eat forbidden fruit, which predictably results in great pain and her lose of innocence. Her redemption comes with Lizzie's sacrifice of and offering up of her body. Her suffering parallels Christ's martyrdom for the sins of mankind. Religious symbolism and female sexuality are both familiar PRB themes, however, Rossetti entangles these two contrasting themes in "Goblin's Market". The intertwining of the two themes are exemplified when Lizzie says to Laura, "Eat me, drink me, love me; Laura, make much of me" (line 471-472) Can these double connotations be balanced? Are there other examples of works of poetry or art that dare to combine religious symbolism and erotica?

Christina Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti made two illustrations for the 1865 London 2nd edition of Goblin's Market and Other Poems. Dante Rossetti chooses to illustrate the cover of the book with the visual depiction of the seventh stanza of the poem in which the two sisters intimately embrace in their sleep. For the second illustration, D. G. Rossetti chooses to portray line 126, the pinnacle moment when Laura cuts a lock of her hair for the goblins' fruit. Presently D. G. Rossetti obsesses over female subjects that are beautiful yet beset with lost or restrained love. There are moments in which the sisters are greatly restrained. One is even reminded of a D.G. Rossetti's Fair Lady portraits, such as Regina Cordium in stanza three.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

In addition, Lizzie attempts to restrain herself from going to the goblins when her sister falls sick. Why would D. G. Rossetti not select a moment of obstacle or restrained love for his illustrations? Rossetti's illustrations emphasize what major themes? In comparing the written words with the pictures, do D. G. Rossetti's illustrations possess the same narrative and thematic power of Christina Rossetti's words?


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Last modified 20 October 2003