Christian and Feminist Views of Christina Rossetti: Analytical Essay

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Animal-shaped goblin men, with their exotic fruits, in a mysterious jungle with two young maidens, all the elements you would expect of a fairytale in Christina Rosetti’s “The Goblin Market”. I’m not convinced that, that is all there is to this poem however, once you look under the surface. This tale of a curious girl named Laura who gets tempted into eating a fruit she wasn’t supposed to and is then saved by her courageous sister Lizzie sounds oddly familiar. The goblin market is a poem by Christina Rossetti a 19th century writer, centered around two young girls Lizzie and Laura who are sisters that come across a market of delicious fruits sold by the goblins there. Laura gets tempted and eats their fruit which she enjoys very much. As she longs for more of the creature’s fruits, she falls heavily sick. Lizzie faces serious danger and shows great determination in standing up to the goblins to save Laura from her illness. It works as Laura gets back to her previous self. Years later the girls married and with kids, teach them the value of true sisterhood. The story of “The Goblin Market” conveys a feminist and religious message with the themes of evil tempting goblin men, strong- savior like female protagonist and a redeemable fallen women.

In a feminist sense the goblins in “The Goblin Market” represent the men who deceive women and leave them. The article “Heroic Sisterhood in Goblin Market” by the English professor Dorothy Mermin that got her PhD from Harvard University, argues for the theme of sisterhood in “The Goblin Market” and Rosetti’s common theme of female redemption throughout her works. Marmin alludes that several of Rossetti’s works dealt with the topic of the “fallen women”, yet Rossetti tended to be sympathetic to the women, reserving her scorn for the men (Mermin 111). Although the setting of this poem might suggest a fairy tale type plot, the fact that Rossetti has a tendency of using the “fallen women” plot point, and demonizing the men gives credit to the goblins being deceitful men who seduced Laura in a sexual way. Furthermore, as the goblins in the poem are always referred to as men, which could only put their deceit in the sexual category, as there would be no other reason to make them all men contrasting two girls. Rossetti writes of Jeanie’s story

Ate their fruits and wore their flowers

Pluck’d from bowers

Where summer ripens at all hours?

But ever in the moonlight

She pined and pined away;

Sought them by night and day,

Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey; (Rossetti 150-156).

These lines clearly depict Jeanie as having some sort of either romantic or sexual relationship with the goblins. This also suggest that it was not a desirable relationship as the goblins were only using her and left her without notice, and that was what eventually led to her death. Rosetti’s message of not blaming the women who were deceived and going portraying the men as the villains is instead very progressive for the Victorian times.

In a religious sense the goblins in the market are likened to rodent like creatures, representing the serpent from Genesis that temped Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Rosetti’s description of the goblin men.

One had a cat’s face.

One wisk’d a tail,

One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,

One crawl’d like a snail,

One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,

One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry. (Rosetti 71-76).

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These are the description given of the goblins, all likened to different animals, but animals that are similarly associated with sneakiness. A cat, a rat, a snail, a wombat and the last one is a honey badger are not very stereotypical for fairytale nice animals, instead it’s the opposite. These animals can be likened to the serpent that tricked Eve into eating the fruit, which is the exact same thing these tricky animals are planning to do to Laura. Their clear unpleasant appearance with Lizzie’s warning should have kept Lizzie away, but yet it didn’t. Instead after these lines we’re told that goblin’s voices sounded like doves, and full of love (Rossetti 77-79). Just like in Genesis where the serpents voice and reasoning convinced Eve to eat of the fruit, the goblins have some sort of power of persuasion on Laura through their voice. Their loving voice seems to have a strange grip on Laura that makes her not notice other suspicious and alarming qualities of the goblins.

Laura is a reminiscent of a prostitute that got excluded form society and yet was able to be redeemed back. Christina Rossetti worked in high gate throughout her life and saw it as her life’s mission to “rescue” fallen women and reintegrate them into society. Laura exchanging her hair for that of the fruit, as well as well as her strong reaction to the taste of the fruit in the poem suggests “that eating their fruit” is euphemism for sexual favors. Lizzie’s words after Laura’s back home, also supports this,

“Dear, you should not stay so late,

Twilight is not good for maidens;

Should not Loiter in the glen

In the haunts of goblin men. (Rossetti 143-146).

What Laura seems to mean by twilight not being good for maidens is that they might get sexually assaulted, which then she attributes to the goblins. Yet when she speaks about what happened to Jeanie, it wasn’t about her getting assaulted against her will, but only her choosing to eat of the goblin’s fruits and receive gifts from them (Rossetti 147-150). So, what Lizzie suggested through her warning to Laura, wasn’t assault by rather a willing sexual relationship with the goblins that leads to depression and isolation. These lines strongly suggest prostitution, that led to Jeanie being excluded from society so much that even daisies wouldn’t grow on her grave. But when she goes backs to her old self with Lizzie’s act of heroism, and gets married at the end of the story, it represents her redemption of her previous lifestyle that get’s her back into society. In the Victorian times prostitutes were seen as grave sinners, and had no chance of marriage with any one. Yet in her poem Rossetti does not really present Laura as a sinner who doesn’t deserve a family. She presents her as a young naïve girl who was tricked, and with a loving sister can end up happily married with children like everyone else, not sad, and depressed and alone.

The story of Laura eating the fruit of the goblins being a reminiscent of the story of Eve’s disobedience of God by eating the fruit of knowledge, shows the religious roots of the fallen women storyline. Several of Christina Rossetti’s biographies such as one in talk about her religious devotion, that even led to her rejection of both of her suiters for having different faiths then her. Her biography shows her religious devotion, and as an author she’s someone who would have read the bible and viewed it at least in part as a literary work as well. Because of such devotion it is not at all unusual that she would incorporate stories from her faith to her own works as well. Besides that, the idea of the “fallen women” had been a subject of obsession of many literary works during the Victorian times, and Rossetti was not the exception. In the poem Laura startlingly askes Lizzie when she’s back from visiting the goblins, ““Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted /For my sake the fruit forbidden? /Must your light like mine be hidden” (Rossetti 478-480). The choice of words by Rossetti of “the fruit forbidden” reminds the readers of the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit instantly. Just like in genesis, Laura did what she wasn’t supposed to do as dictated by society and her sister, and so was punished for her disobedience. That is especially true, because Rossetti makes no attempts at explaining why the fruits are so harmful, or the motivation of the goblins. The objective isn’t to understand why the fruits have the effect that they do, or why the goblins are such deceiving creatures, just that we shouldn’t do what we know to be sinful.

Laura’s rescue of Lizzie serves as a strong feminist, and religious message. As Mary Wilson Carpenter argues for the savior like statues of Laura in her Article, ““Eat me, drink me, love me”: The Consumable Female Body in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market”. Carpenter says that the lines of Eat me, drink me, and love me from the poem are very reminiscent of symbolically eating the flesh of Christ, and drinking his blood for redemption. This analysis of the lines seems very plausible, seeing how Christ is seen as someone redeeming the world from the “original sin” referring to the disobedience of Eve, represented by Laura’s action in the poem. Rossetti could have chosen these set of words in order to have a direct refence to Christianity, and associating her act to that of Christ himself. It’s undeniable thought that having a female savior directly associated with Christ is a feminist act, as most religious cleric’s in the 21 century would have a hard time accepting a female as a savior. Rossetti writes of Lizzie’s resolution, Kiss’d Laura, cross’d the heath with clumps of furze At twilight, halted by the brook: And for the first time in her life Begin to listen and look

Lizzie is not presented as a tomboy, or an overly courageous character that could take on any challenge set in her way, but rather the opposite. She’s shy, reluctant, and more proper of the two sisters, which makes her decision to go against the goblin at this part of the poem even more powerful. What makes Lizzie’s actions a real sacrifice, and a heroic act is her forgoing of her fears and even beliefs for the sake of someone she loves. Lizzie has no experience in the market as the last lines in the quote shows, and through what she knows of Jeanie and Laura’s experience she also has no delusion of success in the market. Due to all of her disadvantages, and the disadvantages associated with girls as a whole in the Victorian times Lizzie being the hero of this poem is a very powerful feminist statement.

Another interpretation of Rossetti’s “The Goblin Market” is the socio-historical perspective, that sees the main objective of the poem as a way of understanding women’s place in the marketplace with rapid increase of capitalism. This perspective sees the goblins as merchants, and the girls Laura and Lizzie as inexperienced female consumers trying to find their place in the market. Although I don’t see this argument as the main point of the poem, I will concede that there is a lot of evidence in the poem that supports this argument as well. Rossetti writes of Lizzie on her way back home

Threaded corpse and dingle,

And heard her penny jingle

Bouncing in her purse, --

Its bounce was music to her ear. (Rossetti 451-454).

These lines in the poem suggests that Lizzie’s victory with the goblins was an economical one, that compensated Laura’s previous failure. Since these lines give so much significance to the coin purse Lizzie was carrying, it’s hard to argue that Lizzie’s act has no socio-historical significance. However, I tend to view Lizzie’s excitement about the coins as her surreal survival of the goblins without having lost anything of hers to the evil goblins. And the sound of their jingle is evidence of her victory rather than placing value on them monetarily.

In conclusion, Christina Rossetti’s “The Goblin Market” incorporates her Christian and feminist views, and in a certain extend merges them together to fully express her ideals in a very fantasy setting. Laura’s sickness from testing the “fruit forbidden” is representative of the “fallen women” that have illicit sexual experience out of the wedlock, which then makes them outcasts in society. This and getting saved by Laura in a Christ like sacrificial manner are references to her religious background, the greater ideas of “original sin”, by the original human’s eating of the tree of knowledge, and redemption from that sin through the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Yet Rossetti’s ultimate message is that these so called “fallen women” are redeemable, and does not put the blame on the women, but rather the men that tempt and use women in such a way. Along with her strong belief in sisterhood, and women helping women reincorporate into society this poem could be considered a feminist poem as well. The idea of prostitutes having any value as human beings wasn’t widely held belief during the Victorian times.

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