Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is a poem that could be associated with many diffe-
rent meanings. Some believe that it is an innocent moral fable; some believe that is shows a lesbian dynamic between two sisters. I, however, believe that the poem shows the tale of what happens when virginity is lost before marriage–it is a poem about sex and the problems that it creates. The key elements in disguising the theme of sex are the fruits, goblins, lock of hair and the fate that is stowed upon the young woman who falls for the call of the mysterious goblins.
One of the most important characters in the poem are the goblins. The poem opens up with: “Morning and evening/Maids heard the goblins cry:/’Come buy our orchard fruits,/Come buy, come buy:’”. If a reader is looking at this poem from an industrialist view they could think that the goblins are merchants and they are selling the fruits that they have grown; if looking at it from a sex oriented point of view, one could say that the goblins and fruit have very different meanings. Goblins are foreign beings, they are not common and are not humanistic; the fruit, when reading the next several lines, are not common fruits and are exotic. Both elements, therefore, would be intriguing to the maidens who hear their cry. Being uncommon, the fruits and goblins would beg for young women to want to know more and to want to try their “fruits”. The fruits, however, are not fruits at all.
There is one scene, in particular, that stands out and shows that the fruits take on a whole new meaning: “‘Buy from us with a golden curl.’/She clipp’d a precious golden lock,/She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,/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;” (Rossetti). At first glance these lines show that a young woman bought fruit with a lock of hair and thoroughly enjoyed it; she sucked the juices out of it until her lips hurt from doing so. However, when looking deeper into the meaning, it could be argued that the goblins are not just selling her fruit, but rather taking a piece of her that cannot just be replaced.
The lock of hair is not just a payment, but rather a symbol of losing part of oneself–in this case her virginity. The fruit and the action of eating it has also been sexualized by the use of the phrases: “Clearer tan water flow’d that juice”, “She never tasted such before” and “She suck’d until her lips were sore”. This link shows a live version of these lines and allows the audience to see that there is more to the event than a girl eating fruits that she bought from everyday merchants (starting at second 21).
Another hint at the fruit not being what it is made out to be is what happens to those who consume it. After Laura ate the fruit she stopped hearing the call of the goblins and fell ill. This could suggest that the loss of her virginity made her worthless. She could not hear the goblins call because she was no longer wanted due to her loss of this precious gift before marriage and her illness shows that once a woman’s virginity is gone, she loses her spark. She did not lose her virginity in wedlock and therefore is, seemingly, punished for it. The only thing that could help her is having access to the fruits again, but the goblins do not want to allow for that. They already got what they wanted and want nothing else to do with the poor girl who could not resist temptation.
In a piece by Lesa Scholl, it says that “The forbidden fruit undoubtedly refers to female sexuality…yet it can also relate to female education and knowledge” (Sholl). I found this to be interesting because knowledge in women, at one time, was feared. It was also said that “intellectual activity would cause their reproductive organs to malfunction, securing the double bondage of sexuality and the intellect on women” (Sholl). This theory is one that could be argued because the illness that Laura gets could be seen as organ failure caused by the consumption of fruit that is really female sexuality. There is another case in the poem where the woman who consumed the fruit actually died from this travesty.
There could also be an argument that this poem has to do with a lesbian attraction between the two women. The piece has a seen where Lizzie comes home and says, “She cried, ‘Laura,’ up the garden,/‘Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me./Never mind my bruises,/Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices’” (Rossetti). These lines could be taken as them being attracted to each other and having intimate relations. I, however, believe that this is a scene where one sister went to extremes to save another from her fate after going against advice to hold onto her virginity.
Dr. Catherine Brown gives an analogy on how to think about sex in literature during the Victorian Era. She says that it is like when you watch a movie from the 1950s and a man and a woman, who could have interest in each other, disappear into a closet–you can assume what is happening, but it is not right there in front of you for you to see. There is a video on Youtube that Dr. Brown has posted that goes into this by using examples from literature, making it easier to understand why Rossetti may have tried to pass this poem off as moral fable. The technique used in this era was to insert topics that were taboo in a way that was hidden and could only be found when studied or read closely. Goblin Market seems to really portray this idea by using fruit to talk about sex and the act of losing ones virginity.
Schll, Lesa. “Fallen or Forbidden: Rosetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” The Victorian Web, 23 Dec. 2003, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/scholl.html.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market” 1859.