Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem “Goblin Market” is often praised as a protofeminist work of literature, and for good reason: the text absolutely contests restrictive Victorian gender norms by exploring the strong, sensual relationship between two sisters as they resist a noticeably masculine group of goblins. Many feminist critics point to the powerful connection between the sisters as an indication that Rossetti is working against the narrow gender norms of the time. Indeed, the fact that the poem is written from a distinctly sensual feminine point of view is already radical, but Rossetti goes further by having the women resist the temptations of the goblins:
“One called her proud,
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat” (1504-5).
Rossetti’s imagery can be read as intensely sexual and aggressive, which is especially interesting considering she was held to different standards than male writers at the time. Her vibrant imagery teems with subversive sexuality that would obviously challenge the patriarchal norms of the time. This raw sensuality is especially present when Lizzie comes back from facing the goblin horde to nurse her sister back to health:
“She cried 'Laura,' up the garden,
'Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men” (1506).
Not only does Rossetti’s imagery teem with veiled sexuality, but she also presents two female characters who do not rely on a dashing man to save them from their predicament. They are presented as independent, as two sisters against a violent crowd of male goblins. Thus, the poem subverts gender paradigms of the time by pitting the sensual sisters against abrasive, masculine figures.
I pulled my textual evidence from the 9th Edition Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume E