Christina Rossetti's narrative poem, "Goblin Market" (1862), presents a fanciful tale of two sisters and their seduction by the tempting fruits of Goblin merchant men. Every night, the Goblin men chant into the night, "Come buy, come buy" [line 4] to lure the maidens from their houses and into a bacchanal feast. Laura, succumbing to her primal desires, with an obvious Biblical reference to Eve, the serpent, and the apple, mournfully sacrifices a golden lock of hair before feasting sensuously on the Goblin's fruit.

She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchards bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away [lines 134-137]

She returns to her sister, Lizzie, with an unquenched thirst for more, spending her days in despair and lingering hope that her passion may be fulfilled once again. A theme often employed by other PRB artists, seen in Millais' Mariana (1850) and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti's narrative poem "The Staff and Script," Laura becomes overwhelmed and consumed by her desire. Only when Lizzie braves the Goblin men to bring her sister a last taste is the "Pleasure past and anguish past" [lines 522-523] of that desire. The poem concludes with the two maidens safe from the temptations and corruptive desires of the fruit. "For there is no friend like a sister/In calm or stormy weather" [lines 561-563].

Questions

1. Betty Flowers suggests the "Goblin Market" may be read as "a commentary on the nature of desire" and an object for feminist criticism (Rossetti, XLV). In this light, the Goblin men may be seen to embody the sensual and lustful motives of human men.

When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother [lines 91-96]

Given the fact that Rossetti was devoutly pious and chaste, to what extent can the "Goblin Market" be effectively seen as a personal critique on sexuality and lustful desire?

2. Rossetti employs several words that could be read as religious symbols. For example,

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,--
Like a rock of blue-veined stone [lines 408-409]

Rossetti describes her as a lily, the flower of purity symbolizing Mary, and as a rock, a symbol for Christian faith. Can these words be effectively read with symbolic religious meaning, and if so, what religious meaning do they contribute to the overall message of the poem?

3. Rossetti describes Jeanie, a maiden who fell to the temptations of the fruit, in the following passage:

But ever in the noonlight She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey [lines 153-156]

This particular passage brings to mind the story and representation of Mariana by Millais. To what degree do the other PRB painters, such as Millais, influence Rossetti's poetry and themes?


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Last modified 20 October 2003