ristina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" emphasizes the importance of self-restraint in the face of temptation. At first Laura and Lizzie lead nearly identical lives. They are sisters, golden-haired and of comparable age. For years, the girls have heard goblin vendors hawk their goods as they fetched water from the brook. Lizzie always shielded her eyes and ears but Laura watched and listened. Their paths diverge when Laura decides to try the fruit of the goblins, offering a lock of her golden hair as payment. The exchange also resembles a loss of virginity; Laura is forced to give up a part of her body. Moreover, Lizzie likens Laura to another woman, Jeanie. Her sucking "their fruit globes fair or red" closely resembles Eve's tasting of the apple. Rossetti's use of the term "fruit forbidden" to describe the fruit of the goblins further emphasizes the link between Laura's fall and original sin. Laura becomes a fallen woman. The exchange also resembles a loss of virginity in some ways. Laura's fate is compared to that of another woman, Jeanie,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
The joy "brides hope to have" could be interpreted as sex and, by indulging in this pleasure before marriage, Jeanie curses herself to sickness and death. Like Jeanie, Laura falls sick after interacting with the goblins and nearly dies. However, the fruit itself does not seem to cause her illness. When she returns home after tasting the fruit, she is not yet a fallen woman or, at least, is not yet depicted as such. She sleeps soundly alongside her innocent sister Lizzie,
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings
The next day Laura is distracted but diligently completes her household duties and the two sisters converse "as modest maidens should". Laura's transformation comes that evening when she returns to the brook and finds that the goblin vendors have lost interest in her.
Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
But peering thro' the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent 'til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
The knowledge that she has "gone deaf and blind" to the fruit vendors' calls causes Laura to grow sick and old, not the fruit itself. If Laura's decision to eat the fruit represents her loss of virginity, why does her transformation happen so late? Why does she not become a fallen woman immediately? Perhaps Rossetti suggests that society creates fallen women more than the women themselves. Although the Goblins call to Laura every evening before she tastes the fruit, they lose interest in her as soon as they have seduced her. Victorians valued virginity highly, and, if a woman had sex before marriage, she could be branded as an outcast. The goblins do not merely take Laura's virginity, they ostracize her for it, and this plays a pivotal role in bringing about her downfall.
1. Ultimately, Lizzie risks her life to redeem Laura.
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Could a woman who has lost her virginity be redeemed or forgiven in Victorian England? Could a woman who has committed some other crime be redeemed? If so, how?
2. Years later, after she has become married, Laura warns her children to avoid the goblin vendors. However, in doing so, she emphasizes the importance of sisterhood above self-control:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."
Why does Rossetti chose to write about sisterhood in the final lines of the poem? Why does she dedicate "Goblin Market" to her own sister, Maria Francesca? To what extent, if any, is "Goblin Market" autobiographical?
3. Rossetti provides detailed descriptions of the goblins' goods:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Apricots, strawberries —
All ripe together
In summer weather —
What role to rhyme and alliteration play in this passage? The goblins, not the narrator, are speaking. How does this change the meaning of the passage?
4. After trying the goblin vendors' fruits, Laura tells her sister
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Many Victorian writers (i.e. Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) described London's opium dens in their work. In what way might Laura's thirst for fruit resemble an addict's thirst for drugs? How prevalent was drug abuse in Victorian England?
5. Compare Laura's fate with that of another fallen woman, Molly, in Great Expectations. Laura's white hair regains its color but Molly continues to bear the scars of her past. Although Laura is redeemed, Molly is merely "tamed". What is the difference between being tamed and redeemed? How, if at all, do the particular natures of the crimes committed by Molly and Laura respectively affect their eligibility for redemption?
Last modified 1 March 2009