Exploding with luscious imagery, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" basically contains both passages that convey narrative details — but nonetheless include visual information — and passages that vividly create the mood of a scene almost entirely by means of rich visual descriptions. The latter passages represent distinct pauses in the progression of the poem, allowing the reader to rest in a moment and absorb the details that the author describes. These portions provide appealing imagery presented in language that heightens its effect. Thus, as descriptions of objects tempt the mind's eye, similarly alluring language draws the reader in, increasing the momentum of the poem even as the narrative action has halted. After succumbing to the goblin brothers' fruit, Laura describes the pleasures of the forbidden delicacies to her sister Lizzie, who has resisted the temptation.

"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap." [lines 169-183]

Long sentences with an almost staccato rhythm characterize this and other instances of Rossetti's intensely visual passages (for example, lines 5-31). This passage listing enticing fruits gains momentum in several ways. By dividing a single thought between two lines, Rossetti forces the reader to hurry voraciously to the next line. After the words "You cannot think what figs", which build suspense, excitement, and a sense of anticipation, Rossetti waits until the next line to provide the highly physical and literal satisfaction: "My teeth have met in." She employs this same method in lines 180-181. In addition, rhymes provide aural pleasure, entreating the reader to luxuriate in the rhythm and sounds of the poem. Furthermore, Rossetti's this passage and the other visual rest passages rely heavily on an appeal to the senses, containing captivating descriptions of colors, textures, aromas and tastes.

Interestingly, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's illustrations of his sister's poem do not highlight the lush images of fruit that would seem likely choices for representation. Although he gives the goblin's golden plate of fruit a prominent location in one of his illustrations, the fruit is only vaguely depicted, and the focus is instead on Laura's mournful action of sacrifice and submission to temptation set against a backdrop of goblins-animals with human limbs. His portrayal of the girls — clearly his main interest in the illustrations — departs slightly from how his sister describes them as well as from many of his other depictions of women. Christina Rossetti's language at the beginning of the poem evokes delicate, virginal young women: she describes them as maids and writes that when the girls walked near the goblins, "Laura bowed her head to hear, / Lizzie veiled her blushes" (lines 34-5). Later on in the poem, they together engage in domestic activities, including making "Cakes for dainty mouths to eat" (line 206). In both of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's illustrations, massive, muscular arms and broad shoulders take central positions in the composition. In the illustration accompanying lines 123-27, Laura has rolled up her sleeves before cutting her hair and kneels in a position emphasizing the thickness of her arms, the weight of her body, and the broadness of her shoulders. In the illustration to the title page, Lizzie holds Laura in a protective, comforting embrace, her left arm forming a massive barrier at the forefront of the image between the viewer and Laura. By contrast, many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's female figures have slender arms (such as the Virgin in Ecce Ancilla Domini (1849-50)) and narrow shoulders (such as in Beatrice, a Portrait of Jane Morris (1879) and Lady Lilith).

Questions

1. Why might Dante Gabriel Rossetti have chosen to depict Lizzie and Laura as mature, muscular figures rather than dainty, adolescent waifs? His choice might suggest an interpretation of Laura as a strong-willed, Eve-like woman who actively sins, and of Lizzie as a heroic savior. However, if one considers Laura as weak for submitting to temptation, and Lizzie as a fundamentally passive, stoic figure, this interpretation of his intentions seems unlikely. Might his depiction of the girls relate to their social status-perhaps peasants living in the countryside? What other explanations seem likely?

2. The significant rescue of one girl by her sister and the strong emotional and occasionally almost erotic ties between them replace the usual ties between men and women that both Rossetti siblings generally describe (for example, in "Song", "After Death" and "The Blessed Damozel") with a tie between two women. What are the implications of this replacement, and how does it affect Dante Gabriel Rossetti's illustration of the sisters embracing?

3. Laura evolves throughout the poem: after initially cautioning her sister about the goblins, she cannot resist looking at them herself and succumbs to temptation; then she wilts miserably and becomes ill, isolating herself from life by sitting down "in the chimney-nook" (line 297); finally, when confronted with her sister's sacrifice for her sake, she gains new hunger, kisses her sister "with a hungry mouth" (line 492), and is restored. The middle stage of Laura's evolution seems to represent a typical nineteenth- to early twentieth-century model of a woman who, when shamed or saddened, draws herself inward, as manifested in Edward G. Bramwell's sculpture of Hero Mourning over the Body of Leander (1908); Dante Gabriel Rossetti's illustration of Laura cutting her hair seems to follow this model. Why, then, might Rosetti have chosen to depict the resolution of the story, when Laura is saved, as a moment in which Lizzie is still curling inward, wrapped in Laura's arms, rather than as a moment in which Laura can assume an outward looking, independent pose (such as in William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience (1851-53)? How does the mention of a "chimney-nook" in the poem evoke a typical Pre-Raphaelite space?


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Last modified 20 October 2003