Goblin Market and Other Poems is considered a Victorian classic, and the seeds of its creation clearly lie within the nineteenth century. Among the works that form a basis for the title poem’s story line is Thomas Keightly’s Fairy Mythology, well known to the young Christina Rossetti, which recounts a folktale about a boy who pines away after yielding to the temptation of fairy food. Also discernible within Rossetti’s work is a Keatsian influence on imagery and mood: the highly sensual descriptions of food in “Goblin Market” most likely owe their genesis to those in “The Eve of St. Agnes.”
It is perhaps because of this strong grounding in the nineteenth century that the book has suffered some decline in readership. As Rossetti’s most famous book of verse, Goblin Market and Other Poems enjoyed considerable popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian nursery, but, by the twentieth century, it was less widely read in households and classrooms. Critics of a post-Freudian mind-set are less likely than the Victorians to accept the work as a simple morality tale and will instead question the compatibility of the poem’s Christian message with the latent violence and eroticism of its imagery. Rossetti’s later writings for children—The Prince’s Progress (1866), Sing Song (1872), and A Pageant (1881)—are usually considered more straightforward than “Goblin Market,” but they have never achieved its fame. Despite shifting critical standards, the poem remains an elusive work that evades concrete judgment.