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Emilia The Victorian era stressed the importance

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Emilia Sicurello

Professor Ronjaunee Chatterjee

18th and 19th Century Women Writers:
Constructing “Woman” 

7 December 2017

 

Goblin
Market Analysis

 

The
Victorian era stressed the importance of femininity and domesticity. A lady was
meant to possess elegance, to be chaste until marriage, to be able to perform
household chores, and be able to please their husband. If a woman strayed from
these values, society would reject her from their social circle. Her reputation
as a woman would be ruined by this act of exclusion, hence the term “The Fallen
Woman”. Rossetti’s poem, “The Goblin Market”, acknowledges the
dangers of transgressing sexually away from the Victorian ideals of women.
Moreover, by giving into these temptations, women take on the role of fallen
women who are impure and knowledgeable. In order to spite these ideals,
Rossetti challenges the role of a fallen woman by integrating her back into
society. When structuring her poem, Rossetti translates this idea through the
incorporation of characteristics taken from children’s fairytales.
Comparatively, her poem illustrates themes of quests, happily ever after, and a
moral message.

From
the very beginning of the poem, the goblins act symbolize the temptation to
give in to sexual desires. In the third line, the goblins state, “Come buy our
orchard fruits,/Come buy, come buy” (Rossetti). “Come buy” is a saying often
used in markets to urge people to buy their goods; however, in this context,
their goods represent their bodies. The goblins are a representation of a
woman’s secret desires. Instead of buying consumer goods, the women are buying
into their carnal lust by selling their bodies to the goblins. The purpose for
these goblins is to illustrate the path a woman must avoid in order to uphold
her status in society. The act of sex is not necessarily a negative act. The
reason why it must be saved for marriage is because it ensures that both lovers
are connected physically and mentally. Rossetti made these goblins show how if
both mind and body are not harmonious with one another, then the act of sex is
regarded as a sin.  The reason why
virgins heed their cries is due to the distortion they present when offering
their fruit as quoted, “Taste them and try: Currants and gooseberries, /Bright-fire-like
barberries, /Figs to fill your mouth” (line 25-28).  They distort the act of committing a crime
through appealing words like “try” to justify their actions which entrances
most virgins. In the poem, there are two different reactions towards the temptations
shown through both sisters, Laura and Lizzie.

Laura
and Lizzie are first introduced to the readers as virgins as it states, “Maids
heard the goblins cry” (line 2). ‘Maid’ is a common Victorian term used to
describe a woman who has not yet been wed. Therefore, maids are unlikely to
partake in any form of sexual pleasure until they are to be married. Since the
sisters have no prior knowledge of sexual conduct, they remain pure which is
why they are likely to hear the goblin’s cry. Despite the fact that they are
both sisters, they illustrate qualities that differentiate themselves from each
other.

Lizzie
is the perfect representation of a Victorian woman. She is a woman who upholds
the values of femininity and the responsibilities that come with holding such a
status. As a lady, keeping up with domestic chores is necessary to become a
good housewife and mother. As it states in the poem, “Fetch’d in honey, milk’d the
cows/Air’d and set to rights the house, /…Talk’d as modest maidens
should:/Lizzie with an open heart,/Laura in an absent dream” (lines 203-211).
In this passage, Lizzie does not hesitate to dive into her responsibilities as
a woman. Lizzie willingly carries out her duties whereas Laura pursues them out
of expectation. Rossetti chooses to describe Lizzie with words such as “wise
upbraidings” and “modest” qualities to be admired in a Victorian woman (Lines
142-209). When she is faced with temptation from the goblins, she decides to
“cover up her eyes, /Cover’d close lest they should look” (lines 50-51). A woman
should not take part in any sexual activity because society demands for maidens
to remain pure or else they will be ostracized. Since Lizzie chooses to cover
her eyes, she is aware of her place in society and acts accordingly. Rossetti
portrays Lizzie as the ideal woman, however she also illustrates the other side
of womanhood through Laura.

            Laura is a
representation of a fallen woman. When it comes to her household chores, she
“is in an absent dream” (line 211). Rather than learning the duties to become a
proper housewife, she distances herself from these Victorian ideals as she
longs for lust proving her to be a fallen woman. In the poem, Laura is seen as
“a leaping flame” (line 218). Comparing Laura to a flame directly links her to
the devil thus furthering her actions as sinful. Her strong and emotional
passions lead her to her close call with death. She rejects society when she
decides to pursue the goblins and ignore her duties as a woman. She is known as
the weaker sister compared to Lizzie because she gives in to her desires as the
poem states, “Laura stretch’d her gleaming neck/Like a rush-imbedded
swan…/Like a vessel at the launch/When its last restraint is gone” (lines
81-86). The portrayal of Laura as a swan demonstrates her elegance as a woman
however by adding the term, “rush-imbedded” it implies her rejection of her
femininity to become a lustful animal. In doing so, she is objectifying her own
body. Another way of rejecting her femininity is seen when the goblins say,
“You have much gold upon your head,” …/Buy from us with a golden curl” (lines
123-125). When the goblins convince her to clip her hair as a form of payment
rather than use actual coins, it reinforces the idea that to be a part of such
vile acts, one must let go of part of their femininity which is why she sells
her body. The exchange between the two acts like a contract where Laura agrees
to satisfy her desires rather than use rational thought. The loss of her
virginity is made clear when “her
sister heard that cry alone” (line 253-254). As previously mentioned, only
virgins can hear the goblins cries so when Laura is made deaf to their cries,
it heightens the idea that she lost her virginity to the goblins and is no
longer a pure woman. In addition, because she gave in to her desires, it has
left her “hair…thin and grey;/She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth
turn/To swift decay and burn/Her fire away” (line 277-280). The knowledge that
she gains from her sinful experience is what kills her metaphorically. She
becomes a fallen woman in society because she longed for the forbidden
experience. The difference between both sisters when it comes time to face the
goblins is that Lizzie’s motives are made clear when she pursues the hardships
to save her sister from death while Laura just wants to experience the
forbidden fruit.

After
Laura partakes in the sinful acts of sexual activity, the poem tries to redeem
her. The transgression is what leads her to become a fallen woman until her sister
Lizzie saves her by becoming a sort of saintly martyr. To save her sister from
her untimely demise, Lizzie decides to visit the goblins in hopes of getting an
antidote. When she gets there, the goblins use all their power to bring her to
the dark side through temptation. To get her to convert, the goblins “trod and hustled her,/…Tore her
gown and soil’d her stocking,/…Held her hands and squeez’d their
fruits/Against her mouth to make her eat” (line 399-407). Her torture is in comparison
to Christ’s dying at the cross since she is suffering for the good of her
sister. She endures the attempted rape and the excessive bullying in a self-sacrificial
act for her sister; however, during this time, she does not give in to the sexual
desires forced upon her by the goblins. Bravery is one of her strongest
attributes along with the power of will to which the poem states, “Lizzie
utter’d not a word;/ Would not open lip from lip” (line 430-431). She is again
proving to be the stronger sibling, willing to go through horrible acts to save
her sister.  To Lizzie, it is a small
sacrifice that she must accept to save her sister’s life. Lastly, as she
succeeds with her mission, she tells her sister to “Eat me, drink me, love
me;/Laura, make much of me” (line 471-472). In this sense, she is like Christ
during his last supper because she is she is offering her bread and wine or in
this case her fruit, to save her sister. They both use food as a way to salvage
themselves and make their loved ones pure again. It becomes a symbol of their
redemption. Rosetti structured her poem as a fairytale because it helped her
disguise the controversial subject matter it portrayed from the government who
otherwise would not have allowed her to publish the poem because it was so
sexually explicit.

 “The Goblin Market” does not only apply
aspects of classic fairytales through the context but through the structure of
the poem as well. Rosetti uses short and simple sentences to appeal to younger audiences
since her poem is considered a children’s fairytale. One example of this is
“Come buy, come buy:/Our grapes fresh from the vine,/Pomegranates full and
fine,/Dates and sharp bullaces” (lines 19-22). Rossetti uses direct phrasing to
make it easier for children to follow her poem but uses underlying themes of
selling one’s body to make her message clear to adults. Due to the short
sentences, when reading the poem aloud it creates a rushed tone that leaves the
reader out of breath because of the poem’s pacing. The rushed tone adds to the
intensity of the poem since the message deals with the sinful crimes against Victorian
values.

The
poem also displays forms of repetition. With the constant repeating of “Come
buy Come buy” it tempts the readers to partake in the act of sin as well. Repetition
is very common in fairytales because it helps the readers focus on the real
message so they will not forget important aspects of the poem. One instance of
this act is shown when Laura decides to purchase the fruit but has no money
stating, “Good folk, I have no coin;/To take were to purloin:/I have no copper
in my purse, /I have no silver either” (lines 116-119). The use of repetition
in this case is to demonstrate her longing for this forbidden fruit which she
cannot possess unless she were to sell her soul.

Observing
the poem as a whole, its rhyme scheme is irregular as it starts out with ABAB
but breaks the formation throughout the poem. Moreover, with the use of ABAB,
Rosetti structures the poem like a nursery rhyme by giving it a sing-song
quality to it. One example is near the beginning, “How fair the vine must grow/ Whose
grapes are so luscious;/How warm the wind must blow/Through those fruit
bushes.” (lines 60-63). When reading a fairytale, the most common element is
rhyme because it targets the interest of young readers giving them a warm and
enjoyable feeling. Ironically, the subject matter of this poem is the complete
opposite. The rhyming serves as a way to make the goblins’ actions seem appealing
and fun when in fact they are rather sinful and can result in dire consequences.
In this sense, the rhyming works to indicate the sole purpose of the goblins:
to tempt young virgins to their demise. On the surface, eating the fruit may
seem like harmless fun. Disobedient women do not take into consideration the
consequences of abandoning their duties as a woman. The slow disintegration of
the rhyming pattern symbolizes the lack of control Laura feels when confronting
her desires and giving into her lust resulting in her fall as a woman. In a
more contextual examination, “The Goblin Market” borrows recurring themes often
presented in fables.

“The
Goblin Market” is considered a children’s fairytale as it entails the heroic
journey of the main character to save their loved ones. Lizzie has proved to be
the stronger sibling so therefore, she is considered the heroine of the story
when it comes time to save Laura from the sins she commits, redeeming her since
Laura cannot do so on her own. As with every fable, to prove their strength and
love they are sent on a dangerous quest and if they succeed, their love is
proven true. Lizzie loves her sister very much as proven through their close
relationship, “Golden head by golden head/ Like two pigeons in one nest/Folded
in each other’s wings” (lines 184-186). Their sibling bond is strong and it is
this bond that gets Lizzie through the harsh pressures of the goblins.  Her ultimate goal is to save her sister from
dying which metaphorically means she is risking her own reputation to
reintegrate her sister back into society by restoring her purity. Her quest
proves to be successful once she pushes through her temptations and collects
the juice that will save Laura’s life as stated, “Her lips began to scorch, /That
juice was wormwood to her tongue,/She loath’d the feast:/Writhing as one
possess’d she leap’d and sung” (line 493-496). As Lizzie begins to feed the
juice to her sister Laura, she has thus given her a second chance at improving
her reputation as a woman. From the moment Lizzie fed the juice to Laura, she
subtly implies that she’s helping her sister reintegrate back into society by
teaching her the womanly duties necessary to become a housewife.

Before
any great quest, there are warnings that the heroes must adhere to before
endangering their lives. In this case, rather than Lizzie adhering to these
warnings, it is Laura who actually ignores all the signs that could have
prevented her undoing. Since Lizzie is portrayed as the Victorian ideal, she is
the one who obeys every rule society offers. Upon hearing the goblin cries,
Lizzie makes it a point to inform Laura, “We must not look at goblin men,/We must not buy their
fruits” (lines 42-43). Lizzie’s warning serves the poem its status as a cautionary
tale like any written fable. The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” also serves
as a cautionary tale when she was told by her mother not to pass through the
woods where she would encounter the Big Bad Wolf. Despite hearing the warning,
she ignored her mother’s wishes and went through the forest. Lizzie’s warning
also acts as foreshadowing to Laura’s demise. In addition, Jeannie is mentioned
to further prove the danger of interacting with the goblins. In the poem,
Jeannie “Sought them by night and day,/Found them no more, but dwindled and
grew grey;/Then fell with the first snow,/While to this day no grass will grow”
(lines 155-158). Jeanie’s story acts as a cautionary tale that Lizzie tells
Laura to present the dangerous effects of getting involved in forbidden areas
heavily advised against by society. She relied heavily on lustful acts and
became too addicted that she metaphorically died when she strayed away from Victorian
ideals, valuing sexual pleasure over the sacrament of marriage. 

“The Goblin Market” would not be a
fable unless it had a morally driven message to convey to the audience. The
moral of the poem is that giving in to one’s own sinful desires can lead to the
downfall of a woman. Laura conveys this moral message when she mentions, “Their
fruits like honey to the throat./But poison in the blood” (lines 554-555). She
acknowledges how immature and irresponsible she was as a woman by realizing she
could have died if not for her sister. For Laura to have understood this
message, she needed to embark on her own quest to mature as a woman and get rid
of that sinful part of herself.

One theme that is necessary of a
great fairytale is the element of ‘Happily Ever After’. If it did not have a
happy ending, the poem would unlikely remain on the bookshelves of many
children. At the end of the poem, Lizzie and Laura become “wives/With children
of their own” (lines 544-545).  Laura
gets her happy ending once her sister saves her life but the readers also gain
closure once they see Laura married. The fact that Laura settles down with
someone gives the readers hope that even if they fall from their predestined
path, they can regain what they lost and be given a second chance.

In conclusion, Rosetti structures her poem as a
fairytale because it helps her disguise the controversial characteristics it
portrays from the government who might not have allowed her to publish it. By
doing so, she can reach out to many women who experience the same situation as
Laura. Although they may have done something regretful, life is not over
because if they are willing to put in the effort, they can get a second chance
at life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work
Cited

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market
by Christina Rossetti.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market.