Goblin Market

From Academic Kids

Goblin Market is an important moral and philosophical poem by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti in the guise of a fantasy entertainment for children. It was illustrated by her brother, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The poem deals implicitly with the ambiguous nature of the female role in Victorian society and is highly allusive to Biblical imagery (notably the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden and The Fall).

Plot

The main characters are two girls, Laura and Lizzie, who hear the goblins hawk their merchandise of exotic fruit each day. Laura is tempted by the fruit, while Lizzie warns her away, then runs from the goblins with her ears covered to avoid hearing their voices.

Laura purchases fruit from the goblins with a lock of her hair, then eats a great deal. The next day, she longs to buy more, and spends the afternoon in depressed anticipation. At evening, however, only Lizzie can hear the goblins. Laura grows sick and weak with longing for the goblin-fruit, until finally Lizzie takes pity on her and goes to buy more fruit from the goblins, bringing a silver penny to pay them.

When the goblins discover Lizzie refuses to eat any of the fruit and wants to bring it to someone else, they grow very angry and try to pursuade her to eat. She resists them and returns home with the juice of the goblin fruits in her mouth and on her lips, though she does not dare swallow. She allows Laura to kiss her and taste the juice from her skin; Laura is eager to do so, but soon finds that the juice burns like a fire in her blood. After Lizzie cares for her through a long night of sickness, however, Laura recovers and is her old self again.

Criticism

Most critics agree that the poem is about feminine sexuality and its relation to Victorian social mores. In addition to the Adam and Eve subtext, there are other textual clues to link the goblin-fruit with sexuality, such as when Lizzie, going to buy fruit from the goblins, considers her dead friend Jeanie, "Who should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have / Fell sick and died". The poem's attitude seems ambiguous, since the happy ending offers the possibility of redemption for Laura, while typical Victorian portrayals of the 'fallen woman' ended in tragedy.

According to Anthony Harrison of North Carolina State University, Jerome Gann reads the poem as a criticism of Victorian marriage markets and conveys "the need for an alternative social order". For Sandra Gilbert, the fruit represents Victorian womens' exclusion from the world of art. (This material, which is quoted from his book 'Christina Rossetti in Context', is copyrighted and can be found here: http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/landow/victorian/authors/crossetti/harrison2/4n32.html).

From a technical standpoint, the poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme, often using couplets or abab rhymes, but also repeating some rhymes many times in succession, or allowing long gaps between a word and its partner. The meter is also irregular, typically (though not always) keeping four or five stresses per line. The lines below show the varied stress patterns, as well as an interior rhyme (gray/decay) picked up by the end-rhyme with 'away'. The initial line quoted here, 'bright', rhymes with 'night' a full seven lines earlier.

But when the moon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

References

  • The poem: [1] (http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/landow/victorian/authors/crossetti/gobmarket.html)
  • Critical material at 'The Victorian Web': [2] (http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/landow/victorian/authors/crossetti/marketov.html)
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