But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste: 115
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered all together:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red. 128

Nothing seems quite so unrelated to Carlyle's "Characteristics" as Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" (1862). In fact, "Goblin Market" does not seem to be related to much in the nineteenth century. Rossetti is apparently not following Elisabeth Barrett Browning's admonition to poets to represent their age and not to flinch from modern varnish, not to cry out for togas and the picturesque. Poets must avoid Roland and his knights, King Arthur and his Lady (Norton 1087). Rossetti's tale is full of goblins and magic, and although she avoids Kings and knights she parallels a very important medieval tale: Tristan and Iseult. However, she does this with a decided feminist slant, thereby mocking both the tale itself and the male tradition and theory of literature. However, to do this, she uses, as a technique, Carlyle's philosophical theories.

King Marc decides to marry Iseult when he finds one of her golden locks - the very same lock the goblins accept as payment for their voluptuous fruit. When Tristan and Iseult drink the love potion on their way to Britany, Iseult's servant is responsible; when Laura showed signs of vulnerability instead of tearing her away from the goblins, Lizzy fails to protect her sister, blocks her ears and runs off, leaving Laura an easy prey. Iseult then looses her virginity, so to save her mistress's marriage, her servant "gives it back" to her by offering her own untouched body to King Marc on the wedding night. Remembering her friend Jeanie, "who should have been a bride," (Norton 1515) Lizzy selflessly submits to the goblins's caressing and pinching. The plots of both tales are based on magical food and drink.

The feminist slant is obvious. Not only are King Marc and Tristan absent, but instead of a potion, Laura eats magical, forbidden fruit. Eve is no longer tempted by a serpent, but by men, goblins, and she falls alone, she is not the cause of an innocent bystander's ruin. She is saved only at the last minute by a female Christ figure, her sister.

Rossetti takes this early manifesto of misogyny, and cleverly twists it around to fit her purpose; a very light, but exceedingly bitting mockery of male-dominated culture. Her technique to achieve this is to work on the subconsciousness of the reader; there is no explicit mention of Tristan and Iseult, of the bible, or of her many other allusions (such as women's economic status or even Pope's "Rape of the Lock" in this passage). She seems to be demonstrating Carlyle's idea that "Of our Thinking, we might say, it is but the mere upper surface that we shape into articulate Thoughts; - underneath the region of argument and conscious discourse, lies the region of meditation; here, in its quiet mysterious depths, dwells what vital force is in us"(Norton 954). Her use of multiple allusions act upon the reader's subconsciousness, or in Carlyle's words, his "region of meditation," rather than on his "region of argument and conscious discourse." In this way her satire has none of the grinding quality of Swift's, or of Carlyle's when he mocks critics, for example: "this or the other well-fledged goose has produced its goose-egg, of quite measurable value, were it the pink of its whole kind; and wonders why all mortals do not wonder!"

Rossetti's light handedness is understandable in the context of the importance of "The Woman Question" (Norton 1636). In 1847 a women's college was founded. From the 1840's up till 1918 petitions for women's suffrage were addressed to Parliament. Married women's right to handle their own property was accorded in 1908, after thirty nine years of agitation (Norton 931). "The Woman Question" was a sensitive issue; and as Virginia Woolf points out in A Room of One's Own, and as countless letters addressed to McArthur White in the Brown Daily Herald explain, all traces of anger and bitterness are to be deleted to make convincing points on sensitive issues.


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Last modified 25 November 2004