Goblin Market, Christina Georgina Rossetti
"Goblin Market" Christina Georgina Rossetti
Poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), composed in 1859 and published in 1862 in Goblin Market and Other Poems. See also, Christina Georgina Rossetti Criticism.
"Goblin Market," an early work considered to be one of Rossetti's masterpieces, was intended simply as a fairy story. Despite Rossetti's assertions that she meant nothing profound by the tale, its rich, complex, and suggestive language has caused the poem to be practically ignored as children's literature and instead regarded variously as an erotic exploration of sexual fantasy, a commentary on capitalism and Victorian market economy, a feminist glorification of "sisterhood," and a Christian allegory about temptation and redemption, among other readings. Additionally, in attempts to decode what is often described as the poem's subversive text, critics have looked to Rossetti's life for interpretive keys. The biographical aspects which have been examined by critics as means toward achieving a greater understanding of the poem include Rossetti's love affairs, her work with the Oxford Movement's "women's mission to women" in which she helped "rehabilitate" prostitutes, and her association with her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Since the language of "Goblin Market" suggests a variety of meanings, critics rarely agree on what the poem is about. Although scholars have failed to concur about something as elemental to the poem as its themes, "Goblin Market" is generally viewed as one of Rossetti's greatest works.
Although Rossetti was a frequent contributor to her brother Dante's Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, she achieved immediate and significant recognition as a skilled poet with the 1862 publication of Goblin Market and Other Poems. The publication of the volume was hailed as the first literary success of the Pre-Raphaelites, earned critical and popular acclaim, and paved the way for the publication of Rossetti's next volume of poetry, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866). Rossetti went on to publish religious poetry, devotional prose, and nursery rhymes for children. Due to the early success of "Goblin Market," Rossetti rarely fell out of favor with critics or her reading public and remains a focal point of critical study of nineteenth-century literary figures.
Plot and Major Characters
The story narrated in "Goblin Market" is often described as simple. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who apparently live together without parents, are taunted by goblin merchant men to buy luscious and tantalizing fruits. Lizzie is able to resist their coaxing and runs home, but Laura succumbs. She pays for the wares with a lock of her hair and gorges herself on the exotic fare, but her desire increases rather than being satisfied. She returns home and informs Lizzie that she will venture back into the glen and seek the goblins again. But Laura can no longer hear the call of the goblins and grows increasingly apathetic. She refuses to eat and begins to age prematurely. Fearing for her sister's life, Lizzie decides to seek out the goblins in order to purchase an "antidote" for her sister. When the goblins learn that Lizzie does not intend to eat the fruit herself, they throw her money back at her and verbally and physically abuse her, pinching and kicking, tearing at her clothing, and smearing the juice and pulp of their fruit on her. Lizzie refuses to open her mouth and returns home with the penny in her purse. She invites her sister to suck the juices from her body, which Laura does. The juice of the goblin fruit now tastes bitter to Laura, and she writhes in pain from having consumed it. But the antidote works. Laura returns to her former self, and the epilogue of the poem describes Laura and Lizzie as wives and mothers. Laura now tells the story to their children, reminding them that "there is no friend like a sister."
Critics look to the language and structure of "Goblin Market" to identify the poem's themes. The argument for the poem's erotic and sexual nature is supported by the language of the poem. The nature of the goblins' fruit is extensively detailed and described as luscious and succulent. Laura consumes the fruit ravenously ("She sucked until her lips were sore" [1. 136]) and physically pays for it with a lock of her hair. Once Lizzie decides to seek the goblin men, their taunts carry heavy sexual overtones as well. First they "Squeezed and caressed her" (1. 349) and then invite her to "Bob at our cherries / Bite at our peaches" (11. 354-55), and to "Pluck them and suck them" (1. 361). When she refuses to eat, they "Held her hands and squeezed their fruits / Against her mouth to make her eat" (11. 406-07). Finally, when Lizzie returns home, battered and bruised, she invites her sister's embrace: "Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / . . . Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me" (11. 466-68; 471-72). This erotic language has been used to support readings of the poem as a sexual fantasy and an examination of the sexuality and cruelty of children. Some critics focus primarily on Lizzie's suffering and subsequent offering of herself to her sister, reading this not as a sexual advance but as a sacrifice similar to Christ's redemption of humanity's sins or as exemplifying the power of sisterhood in a secular or feminist sense.
The language of the poem is also filled with terms of commerce, economics, and exchange. The goblins sell exotic fruits to Laura, who pays for them with a lock of her hair. Lizzie attempts to pay for the fruit with money, which is refused. Such elements of the poem have been examined as statements about capitalism and the Victorian economy, as an exploration of the role of women within the economy and society, and, more specifically, as a discussion of the place of female literature within the economy. Some critics take this one step further and maintain that the poem represents Rossetti's own aesthetic theory. The theme of renunciation in the poem, demonstrated primarily through Lizzie's actions, is sometimes used to prove that Rossetti believed in the necessity of renouncing pleasure or art's gratification in order for poetry to have purpose or significance. On a more religious level, renunciation of pleasure is read as a means of achieving spiritual redemption.
The basic structure of the poem lends itself to a reading of "Goblin Market" as a Christian allegory of temptation, fall, and redemption, and some critics have contended that this is the main purpose of the tale. In this reading, Laura represents the biblical Eve who yields to temptation, and Lizzie is the Christ figure who sacrifices herself to save her sister. Yet other scholars have maintained that the sexual language of the poem compromises its reading as a moral tale. Additionally, some aspects of the poem fail to coincide with the allegory. For example, as several critics have noted, Laura's desire itself is never criticized by either the poem's narrator or by Lizzie, and Lizzie's act is not one of overcoming temptation or desire, for she never longs for goblin fruit herself. This, some critics argue, undercuts Lizzie's standing as a Christ figure.
Twentieth-century criticism of "Goblin Market" is remarkably similar to its contemporary commentary. In an early review (1863), Caroline Norton wrote that the poem "is one of the works which are said to 'defy criticism.' Is it a fable—or a mere fairy story—or an allegory against the pleasures of sinful love—or what is it?" These comments reflect modern criticism, as "Goblin Market" still perplexes and inspires scholars. Perhaps the most common means of investigating the poem is based in biography. Most modern analyses of "Goblin Market" refer in some way to aspects of Rossetti's life. Some critics, such as Lona Mosk Packer (1958), suggest ways in which Rossetti's romantic relationships influenced the poem. Packer describes Rossetti's "intimate friendship" with William Bell Scott, and Scott's subsequent, perhaps romantic, friendship with another woman. By Packer's account, Rossetti's sister Maria may have informed Christina of Scott's new interest and "saved" her sister from misplaced desire in much the same way that Lizzie saves Laura.
Another biographical angle from which the poem is approached is that of Rossetti's work as a "sister" within the Anglican Sisterhoods of the Oxford Movement during the 1850s and 1860s. The work of the sisterhoods involved the reform of prostitutes and the reintroduction of reformed women into mainstream society. Critics such as Mary Wilson Carpenter (1991) argue that interaction with these women accounts for both the feminism and homoeroticism of "Goblin Market." Other critics suggest that the poem was meant as a means of cautioning these women about returning to their former ways. Additionally, critics such as Janet Galligani Casey (1991) suggest a more secular interpretation of "sisterhood." Casey points to the work of Florence Nightingale, and Rossetti's interest in this work, arguing that Nightingale popularized the notion of "sisters" as nurses. Casey goes on to suggest that, having been familiar with this concept and the fact that Nightingale attempted to elevate the role of nurturer (a traditionally female role) to that of the nurtured (a traditionally male role), Rossetti perhaps intended to emphasize that Lizzie heals or nurtures Laura and that the idea of "sisterhood" is really genderless.
One other way in which critics have used Rossetti's life as a key to interpreting the poem centers on Rossetti's involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, in which Rossetti's brother Dante played a prominent role. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was primarily Christian in emphasis and was a reaction against both Victorian materialism and artistic neoclassicism. At the time of its publication, "Goblin Market" was considered to be the first major literary achievement of the movement. Dorothy Mermin (1983) described "Goblin Market" as a "vision of a Pre-Raphaelite world from a woman's point of view." Furthermore, Mermin supports a biographical reading of the poem in which Rossetti imagines a Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood which she did not feel existed in reality.
Finally, some critics have sought to synthesize various biographical aspects in interpreting "Goblin Market." Sean C. Grass (1996) attempts to account for the "commingling" of the influences of Rossetti's love affairs, her work in the sisterhoods of the Oxford Movement, and her association with the Pre-Raphaelites, through her writing of "Goblin Market." Grass emphasizes the importance of letting the poem point to the most "fruitful" ways of approaching it and identifies the use of lists within the poem as the "interpretive key." In his analysis, Grass finds that Rossetti experienced a conflict between her love of nature's variety and her belief that reveling in nature would cloud moral judgement; this conflict, concludes Grass, is the focus of "Goblin Market."
SOURCE: "'The Angel in the House' and 'The Goblin Market'," in Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. VIII, No. 47, September, 1863, pp. 398-404.
[In the following excerpt, Norton offers a favorable assessment of "Goblin Market," maintaining that the work is Rossetti's best and that its linking of fantastic imagery to everyday life allows "Goblin Market" to "vie with Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner'."]
The "Goblin Market," by Miss Christina Rossetti, is one of the works which are said to "defy criticism." Is it a fable—or a mere fairy story—or an allegory against the pleasures of sinful love—or what is it? Let us not too rigorously inquire, but accept it in all its quaint and pleasant mystery, and quick and musical rhythm—a ballad which children will con with delight, and which riper minds may ponder over, as we do with poems written in a foreign language which we only half understand.
One thing is certain; we ought not to buy fruit from goblin men. We ought not; and we will not. The cost of doing so, is too passionately portrayed in Miss Rossetti's verses to permit us to err in such a sort. The cunning, and selfish overreaching of the goblins is too faithfully rendered in Mr. D. G. Rossetti's picture—"Buy from us with a golden curl"—to allow us to be taken in. Decidedly not all the list of delicious fruits with which the volume opens shall make us waver in our resolution. We agree with...
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SOURCE: "The Burden of Christina Rossetti," in Impressions and Memories, J. M. Dent and Co., 1895, pp. 55-64.
[In the following excerpt, Noble praises "Goblin Market" as a "spiritual drama" about the redemptive power of love.]
For those who love letters so well that even its mere chronology has for them no barren aridity, there are certain years to which are assigned specially honourable places in the chambers of memory; and 1862 has a double claim to such honour, for it witnessed the publication of the "Last Poems" of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and of the first really representative work of Christina Rossetti. When the latter poet was but sixteen, a little collection of her girlish verse had been proudly though privately printed by her maternal grandfather, Mr Polidori, and in 1850 her pen-name, "Ellen Alleyn," had appeared as the signature of seven youthful poems published in The Germ; but the slim volume containing "Goblin Market" and its lyrical companions was the first revelation to the world of the matured powers of the new singer, and to those who had ears to hear, the little book came as a welcome assurance that, though one rich penetrating strain was silenced, a woman's voice not less strong and tender, and with a new, strange quality of charm, was still to be heard in the Victorian choir.
It is probable, however, that few of Miss Rossetti's earliest readers and critics...
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SOURCE: "The Feminine Christ," in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 10, Autumn, 1956, pp. 19-20.
[In the following essay, Shalkhauser examines "Goblin Market" as a "Christian fairy tale" in which Lizzie represents Christ and Laura signifies sinful humanity.]
Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" is a unique Christian fairy tale in which a feminine cast of characters is substituted for the masculine cast of the Biblical sin-redemption sequence. Lizzie, the pure sister, is the symbol of Christ; Laura represents Adam-Eve and consequently all of sinful mankind.
The basic symbolic pattern begins immediately: "Morning and evening / Maids heard the goblins cry." Throughout their lives sin beckons to God's creatures. Notice that only maidens are mentioned as hearing the cry of sin, and that they are innocent until corrupted by the animalistic masculine goblins. The cry of these goblins is that of the fruit-hawker, as was Satan's in the Garden of Eden, and their fruit comes from the un-Anglican South. The cry itself is encased within lines indicative of early mortality, for it is "evening by evening" that the sisters hear it. Lizzie warns Laura, "We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits." Goblins are creatures of the Devil, symbols of Satan himself, who carry with them all the temptations of the world, as did Satan when he tempted Adam, and later, Christ. How ironic it is then...
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SOURCE: "Symbol and Reality in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market," in PMLA, Vol. LXXIII, No. 4, Part I, September, 1958, pp. 375-85.
[In the following essay, Packer argues that the symbolism—which is often vague—in "Goblin Market" reflects the realities of Rossetti 's life, just as the symbols in her other works correspond with her life, and that the poem should not be read simply as a "Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece."]
In common with other such enduring works of art as The Faery Queen, Gulliver's Travels, and Alice in Wonderland, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" has many levels of meaning. At the narrative level it offers a charming and delicate fairy tale to delight a child—if a somewhat precocious one. At the symbolic and allegorical level, it conveys certain Christian ethical assumptions. At the psychological level, it suggests emotional experience universally valid.
Unlike Christina's other long autobiographical poems, notably "Convent Threshold," "From House to Home," and "Prince's Progress," this poem, acknowledged her masterpiece, has no hero.1 No fiery intellectual such as we find in "Convent Threshold," no poet-lover similar to the one who first shares and then shatters the speaker's earthly paradise in "From House to Home," no tardy and loitering Prince failing to make hymeneal progress graces...
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SOURCE: "Female Gothic," in Literary Women, Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1976, pp. 90-110.
[In the excerpt that follows, Moers regards "Goblin Market" as Rossetti 's contribution to Gothic fiction, or the "literature of the monster," and maintains that the poem serves as an examination of the cruelty and sexuality of children rather than as a Christian allegory.]
Thinking about Wuthering Heights as part of a literary women's tradition may open up a new approach to a faded classic of Victorian poetry by a woman who was in fact, as Emily Brontë certainly was not, gentle, pious, and conservative: Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market." In 1859, twelve years after the Brontë novel, Rossetti wrote her own contribution to the literature of the monster in the form of a narrative poem. Published in 1862, "Goblin Market" quickly became one of the most familiar and best-loved Victorian poems, and was given to little children to read in the days when children had stronger stomachs than they do today. Perhaps the last generation to grow up with "Goblin Market" was that of Willa Cather, who published her first book of short stories a decade after Rossetti's death, called it The Troll Garden, and gave it an epigraph from "Goblin Market:"
We must not look at Goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits;
Who knows upon what soil they fed
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SOURCE: "The Aesthetics of Renunciation," in The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 1979, pp. 539-80.
[In the following excerpt, Gilbert and Gubar argue that "Goblin Market" demonstrates Rossetti 's opinion of the necessity for female renunciation of the "risks and gratifications of art. "]
Like [Rossetti's]Maude, "Goblin Market" (1859) depicts multiple heroines, each representing alternative possibilities of selfhood for women. Where Maude's options were divided rather bewilderingly among Agnes, Mary, Magdalen, and Maude herself, however, "Goblin Market" offers just the twinlike sisters Lizzie and Laura (together with Laura's shadowy precursor Jeanie) who live in a sort of surrealistic fairytale cottage by the side of a "restless brook" and not far from a sinister glen. Every morning and evening, so the story goes, scuttling, furry, animal-like goblins ("One had a cat's face, / One whisked a tail, / One tramped at a rat's pace, / One crawled like a snail") emerge from the glen to peddle magically delicious fruits that "Men sell not.. . in any town"—"Bloom-down-cheeked peaches, / Swart-headed mulberries, / Wild free-born cranberries," and so forth.62 Of course the two girls know that "We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits: / Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their...
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SOURCE: "The Indefinite Disclosed: Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson," in Women Writing and Writing about Women, edited by Mary Jacobus, Croom Helm, London, 1979, pp. 61-79.
[In the excerpt below, Kaplan surveys feminist readings of "Goblin Market" and argues that the poem explores female sexual fantasy.]
To fill a Gap
Insert the Thing that caused it—
Block it up
With Other—and 'twill yawn the more—
You cannot solder an Abyss
(Emily Dickinson, c. 1862)1
This curious, compacted lyric is one of a group of poems that form a distinct category in the work of two Victorian women poets, Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. Such lyrics speak directly to and about the psyche, expressing and querying feelings that are deliberately abstracted from any reference to, or analysis of, the social causes of psychological states. They attempt to escape immediate or specific social determination, a project that cannot be finally realised since all representation as such must exist within a cultural discourse. Most of Dickinson's verse, and the larger part of Rossetti's, exclude the social in this way; but in this particular subgenre their poetry also employs atypical forms of imagery. Instead of straightforward metaphorical constructions, comparisons of...
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SOURCE: "Heroic Sisterhood in Goblin Market," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer, 1983, pp. 107-18.
[In the following essay, Mermin argues that "Goblin Market" explores the feminine fantasies of "freedom, heroism, and self-sufficiency," celebrates "sisterly and maternal love," and suggests the possibility of a Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood.]
"Goblin Market" is usually read as an allegory of the poet's self-division that shows, in Lionel Stevenson's representative summary, the conflict between "the two sides of Christina's own character, the sensuous and the ascetic," and demonstrates "the evil of self-indulgence, the fraudulence of sensuous beauty, and the supreme duty of renunciation."1 Readings of his sort even when they are not reductively biographical (as Stevenson's is not) do not allow for the openness and multiplicity of meanings that we acknowledge in such predecessor poems as Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner or Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." They usually assume that the poem welled up spontaneously and artlessly from Rossetti's unconscious and press towards exclusively psycho-sexual interpretations. By turning the two sisters into parts of one person, they minimize or distort the central action in which one sister saves the other; they shy away from the powerful image of Lizzie as Christ saying, "'Eat me, drink me, love me'" (1....
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SOURCE: "'Men Sell Not Such in Any Town': Christina Rossetti's Goblin Fruit of Fairy Tale," in Children 's Literature, Vol. 12, Yale University Press, 1984, pp. 61-77.
[In the following essay, Watson maintains that while the Christian allegorical framework of "Goblin Market" is the means by which the story is made "'acceptable," the fairy tale subtext of the poem subverts the Christian moral of renunciation and extolls the virtues of imagination and knowledge.]
Although "Goblin Market" has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the finest of children's poems1 and has repeatedly been labeled a fairy tale, in line with Christina Rossetti's own insistence on this point, there has been no serious, extensive consideration of "Goblin Market" as a children's poem drawing upon the themes and forms of traditional children's literature. This is true because, in large part, readers from the beginning to the present have had difficulty concentrating on anything other than the framework of Christian allegory—a more "adult" genre—which is so apparent in the poem. This overriding critical attention to the allegorical moral, while it has produced a number of instructive and illuminating readings, has been less than entirely satisfactory. It is the contention of this essay that only by viewing "Goblin Market" as a tale for children, a tale which is structurally based on the interweaving...
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SOURCE: "'Speaking Likenesses': Language and Repetition in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 22, No. 4, Winter, 1984, pp. 439-48.
[In the following essay, Conner explores the relationships between "Goblin Market" and Rossetti's other works, maintaining that the use of repetition in Rossetti's devotional poetry establishes a sense of "confirmed redemption," while in her nursery rhymes this repetition formula creates a sense of "irresolution." Similarly, Conner suggests, this "irresolution" is the result of the use of repetition in "Goblin Market."]
"Goblin Market" remains one of the most persistently puzzling poems of the nineteenth century; familiarity has seemed to increase rather than to diminish our uncertainty about its form, style, meaning, and even content. The poem has been treated too much, however, as sui generis, without reference to the rest of Christina Rossetti's work and especially to her other writing for children.1 The aim of this brief essay is to make the links between her other work and "Goblin Market" a little clearer and thus to throw light on some of the peculiarities of this poem, as well as to suggest ways in which Christina Rossetti's poetry as a whole shares with "Goblin Market" the capacity to unsettle.
First, it is important to note the power which nursery rhyme had over Christina Rossetti; indeed the...
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SOURCE: "Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire: Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'," in ELH, Vol. 58, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 903-33.
[In the essay below, Helsinger reviews "Goblin Market" as a "fantasy of consumer power, where the empowered consumer is a woman," concluding that such power is gained by women through the "withholding of desire" and that the poem describes a Utopian withdrawal from the economics of sex and marriage.
The language of Christina Rossetti's best-known poem, "Goblin Market," is remarkably mercantile. "Come buy, come buy," the iterated cry of the "merchant men" that punctuates the poem, has few parallels in English poetry in the nineteenth century. While buying and selling, markets and merchants and their customers, are a staple of nursery rhymes—"To market, to market, jiggety jig"—most literary Victorian poetry, like the little pig, resolutely stays home from commercial encounters. "Goblin Market" not only adopts the forms of the nursery rhyme but also carries the mercantile preoccupations of Mother Goose into a volume of serious poetry.1 Much of the criticism of "Goblin Market" treats its story of buying and selling, like its rhymes and goblins, as the figurative dress for a narrative of spiritual temptation, fall, and redemption.2 But what happens if instead we read the figure as the subject: buying and selling, or more specifically, the relation...
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SOURCE: "The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 63-78.
[In the following essay, Casey studies the meaning of "sisterhood" in "Goblin Market," arguing that the term implies a variety of meanings and "potentially includes the experience of both sexes." Additionally, Casey examines the Victorian conception of the nature of sisterhood as popularized by the work of Florence Nightingale and suggests how Rossetti 's own work as a "sister" may have influenced her writing of "Goblin Market. "]
"For there is no friend like a sister."1
Critics of Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" have long noted the prominence of "sisterhood" in this poem. In particular, feminist readings of the poem center on the sisterhood theme in an attempt to argue that Rossetti has created a world which deliberately excludes men. For these critics, the term "sisterhood" marks a reaffirmation of the potentialities of women for independence and productivity.2 However, "Goblin Market" is also recognized as a work which successfully sustains several levels of meaning simultaneously; its rich "suggestive[ness]," first commented upon by William Michael Rossetti,3 prompts numerous and varied interpretations. In reducing the concept of "sisterhood" to a single unwavering level of meaning, feminist...
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SOURCE: "'Eat me, drink me, love me': The Consumable Female Body in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 415-34.
[In the following essay, Carpenter suggests that "Goblin Market" presents a radical view of women's bodies and appetites that was influenced by Rossetti 's participation in the Oxford Movement's "women's mission to women," in which she worked with prostitutes and homeless women.]
When Alice falls down the rabbit-hole she behaves, as Nancy Armstrong has pointed out, like a typical shopper—picking out and then putting back a jar of orange marmalade from the shelves of the rabbit-hole.1 Later, she discovers that objects in Wonderland tend to come inscribed with such unsubtle advertising ploys as "eat me" or "drink me." Noting that all Alice's troubles seem to "begin and end with her mouth," Armstrong relates Alice's dilemma to "a new moment in the history of desire," a moment when the burgeoning "consumer culture" based on British imperialism changed the nature of middle-class English femininity (p. 17). Alice in Wonderland (1865) demonstrates the logic that links the colonial venture to the appetite of a little girl through the image of a "double-bodied woman"—a conflation of non-European women with European prostitutes and madwomen, all three of which were thought to exhibit the same features of face and...
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SOURCE: "Rossetti's Goblin Market" in The Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 1, Fall, 1992, pp. 22-24.
[In the following essay, Drake discusses "Goblin Market" as a modified epyllion—a small epic—in which Lizzie plays the role of the epic heroine.]
Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" exhibits several of the characteristics and conventions of epic poetry and should be studied as a somewhat modified version of the epyllion—a poem that emulates the classical epic in subject matter and technique, but is decidedly shorter (typically depicting just a single heroic episode) and narrower in scope—modified because the epyllion is ideally composed using dactylic hexameter, and "Goblin Market" is, of course, written in free verse.
A substantial number of critics have noted that Rossetti's heroine, Lizzie, resembles a transfigured Christ who redeems her peccant sister by sacrificing herself to the malevolent goblins.1 Feminist critics, meanwhile, have designated Lizzie a pioneering member of their own movement who is earnestly determined to protect the sanctity of sisterhood against any form of patriarchal corruption (i.e. the goblin men).2 Inherent in both these persuasive exegeses is the understanding that Lizzie is an individual of historic, or even cosmic, consequence. Moreover, one need not examine her victorious encounter with the goblins (lines...
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SOURCE: "Nature's Perilous Variety in Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'," in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 51, No. 3, December, 1996, pp. 356-76.
[In the essay that follows, Grass examines the influence of various aspects of Rossetti 's life on her writing of "Goblin Market." He identifies Rossetti 's extensive use of lists as the "interpretive key" in determining which biographical events correspond to the events in "Goblin Market. "]
The critical interpretations of Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" that have been advanced during the last two decades are nearly as multifarious as the goblin fruits so lavishly depicted in her verse. A cursory glance at the introduction to virtually any critical essay on "Goblin Market" provides a healthy catalog of the disparate readings of the poem: as commentary on the capitalist marketplace; as tale of sexual, sometimes homoerotic yearning; as feminist glorification of sisterhood; and perhaps most often as Christian allegory of temptation and redemption, "inescapably a Genesis story."1 Many early criticisms of Rossetti's poetry focus on the location of biographical events that correspond to the situations described in her verse, apparently in an attempt to show Rossetti's poetry as grappling with the symbolic meanings in events of her quiet, retiring life.2 But this body of criticism as a whole tends to be too narrowly focused on Rossetti's...
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Arseneau, Mary. "Incarnation and Interpretation: Christina Rossetti, the Oxford Movement, and Goblin Market." Victorian Poetry 31, No. 1 (Spring 1993): 79-93.
Advances a religious interpretation of "Goblin Market" not as Christian allegory but in light of the "intense incarnationalism and sacramentalism of the Oxford Movement" in which Rossetti participated.
Bentley, D. M. R. "The Meretricious and the Meritorious in Goblin Market A Conjecture and an Analysis." In The Achievement of Christina Rossetti, edited by David A. Kent, pp. 57-81. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987.
Argues that not only is "Goblin Market" a reflection of Rossetti's work with "fallen women" but was intended as a "cautionary tale" to be read aloud by Rossetti to an audience of such women.
Campbell, Elizabeth. "Of Mothers and Merchants: Female Economics in Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'." Victorian Studies 33, No. 3 (Spring 1990): 393-410.
Maintains that "Goblin Market" represents Rossetti's critique of capitalistic society and that the poem affirms the "vital socioeconomic function" of women in the Victorian economy.
Crump, R. W. An Introduction to The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, edited by R. W....
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