Sorry about not posting sooner. The carpel tunnel in my hands/arms/elbows has been really bad the last week or two and I’ve just not felt like typing anything because of that. Today was a good day. My hubby and I managed to submit my taxes very early this year and got our refund back today. So I have paid my last auto loan payment and now officially own my car! I went with my mom and son to our local Children’s Museum and had a blast. We had never gone to this one, but my son had a lot of fun and did a lot of running around. Then we went out to an early Birthday lunch (mine is tomorrow), and my son managed to eat most of my mother’s grilled fish. I had a Portobello Mushroom pizza with caramelized onions and garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella and feta, and Greek olives. It was scrumptious!

Yesterday I read the Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market, originally published in 1862, and a commentary by Joyce Carol Oates. Here is the poem in case you want a copy. I enjoyed Ms Oates’ commentary on it, as I had never read anything on it and it was a very fascinating poem with lots of subtext.  It was also a nice edition because of the William Morris background designs and Christina’s brother’s paintings. I did find it interesting that the paintings they used were all of Jane Burden Morris, William Morris’s wife and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mistress and muse, especially given the sexual innuendo in the poem itself. The poem is about two virginal unmarried girls, named Laura and Lizzie, who can hear goblin merchants hawking fruit near their backyard. The fruit is seen as a deadly temptation, and eventually Laura succumbs and sells a lock of her hair to taste the forbidden fruit. She begins to waste away after eating the fruit and desiring more but unable to attain any, and she literally turns old and gray in the process. Her sister Lizzie braves the goblins to save her sister.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s illustration for the original 1862 edition of Goblin Market

DG Rossetti Book Illustration for Goblin Market

I will say, that for a Victorian woman who never married, Christina Rossetti had a very vivid imagination, especially for a woman. Not to be derogatory, but women at that time were seen as not being interested in sex at all, and sex was definitely a taboo subject for pretty much anyone to talk about in public. For Rossetti to combine both a religious moralistic tone while having all of these sensual descriptions of fruit, goblins, and even sisters sharing the same bed is surprising to say the least (though not entirely surprisingly as I still think to this day, especially after reading a book about Victorians and sex, that they were the most secretly sexual society despite outward appearances). The first thing I would like to discuss about the poem is the religious connotations. You can immediately see the comparison between Laura and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I particularly liked the quote from this article on the poetry analysis: “Rossetti shows how the strength and fortitude of one woman against the temptations of sexual evil is enough to free someone she loves from the punishment of damnation.” Laura falls from grace after eating the fruit, or rather falls from the love of God. Lizzie, the more pure of the sisters is literally beaten up by the goblins as they try to shove the ripe fruit into her mouth. The only thing that can save Laura from her grief, old age and eventually death is, according to this article, “the antidote [which] is appropriately similar, though purged or purified (because it is her sister, and because the juice is the product of her triumph over temptation).  Like dissolves like.  The vaccine that saves is the deadly disease in a harmless form.” Lizzie’s sacrifice of giving up her body to the juices of the fruit, so that her sister can reverse the effects could be compared to the way Christ gave his body to save humanity.

Arthur Rackham’s White and Golden Lizzie Stood for the 1933 edition of Goblin Market

Arthur Rackham - White and Golden Lizzie Stood, Goblin Market

The sexuality in the poem is out in the open, as well as implied. As the author of this post points out: “She describes sensual parts of the body such as lips, breasts and cheeks. She also utilizes verbs such as to hug, kiss, squeeze and suck. Sexual connotations heighten the relationship between the male goblins and female maidens. Laura’s ecstatic experience with the goblin’s fruit is an indescribable high that is almost orgasmic. The goblins’ over-invasive and aggressive advances towards Lizzie could represent sexual invasion such as rape.” The description of the goblin men in the second stanza, for example: “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” and that’s not even counting the descriptions of the fruit. We have “Plump unpeck’d cherries…Wild free-born cranberries…Pomegranates full and fine…Bright-fire-like barberries, Figs to fill your mouth.” And this is not even counting the overtly sexual scene of Lizzie rescuing Laura from her decline by telling her to ” Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you…Eat me, drink me, love me” and also of Laura gorging on the fruit in the beginning of the poem:

Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow’d that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away

Young virginal women can be easily corrupted. After Laura devours the goblin fruit, she is seen as having lost her virginity (through the cutting of her golden locks) and is now a fallen woman. It is only through her sister’s intervention that she is able to later marry, bear children and tell this story to them.

A final look at this poem gives us some interesting conclusions. As the writer of this journal blog says,

“The Goblins represent everything that is taboo for young Victorian women, and Lizzie represents everything that a good young Victorian woman should be: pure, strong, sacrificing, innocent, beautiful, responsible.What is most interesting to me, is that Laura is redeemed. Most fallen women DIE. Especially in Victorian lit. Once you tarnish your purity, you are doomed. Excuse me, that should be with a capital: Doomed. But here we have a sister’s love (the non-masculine, purest kind of love) as *stronger* than the evil temptations of Satan/goblin men. It’s a sister-bond, a woman to woman relationship that saves the day, not a man, a husband, brother, knight-in-shining armor. This love is strong enough to forgive, to redeem without God’s permission – and that’s what makes this poem just a little bit subversive.”

In case you are interested, this is another interpretation of the poem and its meanings. On a totally unrelated note, I like that one of the goblins in the poem looks like a wombat, i.e. “One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry.” This may not seem that unusual but after reading a book on the Pre-Raphaelites, I found out that Christina’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was so obsessed with wombats that he kept a few of them as pets. I would give this book 4 stars.