The poetry of Goblin Market and Other Poems was immediately recognized as a significant contribution to English literature, and it set the tone for Christina Rossetti’s later writing: Her metrical inventiveness, as well as her themes of death, ascetic renunciation, and thwarted love, were established here.
The theme of renunciation is central to the title poem “Goblin Market,” and critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have identified it as a key aspect of all Rossetti’s writing. Though not overtly Christian or devotional as her later poetry, “Goblin Market” seems at first to express a traditional Christian attitude of renunciation of the sensual, of the flesh. Yet many critics have noted an ambiguity in the way in which sensuality, represented by the goblin fruit, is depicted in the poem. Laura’s devouring of the fruit, paralleled later by her equally sensuous sucking of the juices off her sister’s face, is described in a lushness of physical imagery unusual in Christina Rossetti’s poetry (though typical of the verse of her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti).
The overt moral on the value of sisterhood, found in the final six lines of “Goblin Market,” is often disparaged as an afterthought, unrelated to the rest of the poem, which is about renunciation. A close study of Lizzie’s sacrifice for her sister, however, reveals that the themes of renunciation and sisterhood are related. Lizzie’s resistance to the charms of the goblin fruit is merely temperance in the first scene, but when she seeks the goblin merchants after Laura’s illness, her resistance takes on a heroic, sacrificial quality. Lizzie’s Christlike self-giving defines sisterhood and makes her even more Christlike as Laura’s savior, resurrecting her from the death-in-life caused by the evil fruit—an obvious parallel to the Eden story.
A few critics have been tempted to discover an autobiographical element in “Goblin Market,” which leads to a general question of how subjective a reader should consider Rossetti’s poetry to be. Christina dedicated the poem to her sister Maria Rossetti, and her brother William speculated that...
(The entire section is 885 words.)