Lead Us Not into Temptation.

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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.
290px-Found_rossetti (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.
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(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:
1.  http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/scholl.html

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead Us Not into Temptation.

  1. Thanks for this post. There’s a fascinating mixture of sacred, erotic, and violent imagery in this poem, which keeps us on our toes throughout. Also an interesting mix of the domestic and the exotic. It seems clear to me that Laura is both consumer and consumed in the goblin market–gorging on the fruit, but also consumed by the goblins (which that soft porn image from Playboy makes clear). When Lizzie enters, it’s with a much different purpose than Laura’s. For one thing, she enters with literal currency–a silver penny in her purse–whereas Laura wanders in with only her body, which quickly becomes currency in the goblin market. The goblin market is an illegitimate one, but Lizzie treats it as though it’s legit. The goblins try to do the same to her that they did to Laura, but she surprises them with her refusals. The goblins’ figurative rape of Lizzie is the “sacrifice” she makes on behalf of another, a sister, which is another crucial difference between the two sisters and their experience in the marketplace.
    Do you think as readers we are seduced/tricked/swindled by this poem in any way? As another student in the class pointed out, those opening lines are literally mouth-watering–it’s like we’re being lured into the poem with the promise of fresh, exotic fruit ourselves. “Come buy, come buy.” What happens to us as readers once we step inside that world?

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  2. This is a great post and I really like your analysis of a woman’s value through chastity. When I first read through “Goblin Market” I felt a bit at a loss for words, its a lot of information to capture in one read, this piece requires time to meditate over each stanza, line even.
    This poem really reminded me of Greek mythology with the myth of Queen Dido and Aeneas. In the story of Queen Dido is married to Aeneas and they are deeply in love. One day she is raped by a God (which is a very common thing in ancient Greek mythology, Gods did not really believe in consent). After that Queen Dido feels so incredibly guilty about having has sexual relations with someone other than her husband that she kills herself. Which is very similar to your point about the “fallen women.”
    another Greek myth that this poem reminded me of is the myth of Tantilus, or more so his punishment. Tantilus committed a crime directly against the Gods will (He cooked up his own son for dinner and tried to feed it to them, which is really messed up) which got him cast into the worst part of the Greek underworld, Tartarus. In Tartarus he sits in a giant pool of water but anytime he goes to take a drink the water disappears. Above him beautiful fruit dangle, every time he goes to reach for them they move just out of reach. It is because of this myth we have the word, tantalizing. The Goblins in this poem have a tantalizing manner as they try and seduce the women into having some of their fruit. Any way, that were some connections I drew from your analysis of “Goblin Market.”

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