Christina Rossetti narrates the journey of unconditional love between two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, in her poem titled “Goblin Market”. In the poem, the two sisters struggle as they are tempted to give in to their sexual desires and buy the goblins fruit, a symbol of the biblical account of forbidden fruit. Many critics such as Erika Andersen argue that the poem is a story with the moral of strong friendships and women sticking together. And although this feminist theory is plausible, the poem is more likely about women trying to escape the temptations of losing their chastity and exploring their sexuality before marriage in an era run by popes and priests.
Rossetti recognised how her patriarchal society caused harm to the women who challenged its ideals, and she in turn suggests that women have the freedom of testing the waters of sexuality and repenting afterwards.
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter time
Rossetti uses Jeanie as a symbol of the fallen women
, women who have lost their innocence to the goblins, luring them in with mouth watering promises. According to Rossetti, these women wither and die alone. Society had measured women’s worth by their pureness. Lizzie repeatedly turned to Jeanie as a prime example of what happens to those who drift from abstinence of any sexual act before marriage.
(A painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1865–1869), Christina Rossetti’s brother, showing a distressed fallen woman who is turning her face away in shame. The unfinished painting illustrates a bridge in the background which implicates the woman is contemplating suicide, which was very common for fallen women in the 19th century.)
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipp’d a precious golden lock,
She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl
In these three lines, Christina Rossetti paints this vivid image of Laura paying the goblins with her most valuable possessions. She is quite literally giving away a piece of her so that she can enjoy their wide variety of fruit. This mirrors women giving up their virginity, their reputation and arguably their worth when they chose to engage in sexual activity with these men. This goes back to the idea of the bible referring to women’s bodies as precious and holy temples.
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
Rossetti writes the story of Laura losing her virginity by using vulgar imagery and recreating the scene with fruit metaphors and symbolism. It’s almost shocking how hungry for sexual touch Laura seems as she repeatedly sucks the fruit to the point of physical pain. This echos Rossetti’s subjective desires and fantasies of what it would be like to be sexually intimate, as she was never married
and was part of a religious society.
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
It becomes more and more apparent that this poem is meant to be erotic. Rossetti introduces this idea of two women becoming intimate, as Lizzie asks Laura to kiss her and suck her juices. But this scene is also meant to be a redemption scene, where Lizzie is a Christ figure of sacrifice to pay for Laura’s sins. As Laura sucks her juices, she is cured of her need for the goblin men’s fruit; however, this was a long a painful process.
(Images from Playboy, illustrated by Kinuko Craft (1973). The images highlight the sexual context that can be derived from the poem.)
The poem ends on an unexpectedly positive note, where both women still get the traditional lifestyle women looked forward to in the 19th century. They become housewives and mothers to a number of children. Although most fallen women were shunned from society and expected to take their own lives, Rossetti takes a different route with her story. She implies that Laura’s sins were washed away with redemption, and that having sexual intimacy should not take away from a woman’s worth in society.
Blog posts that might interest you: