"Goblin Market:" Renunciation and Redemption in Christina Rossetti's Narrative Poem

By Kelley S. Kent
2014, Vol. 6 No. 01 | pg. 2/2 |

It is Laura who must “die” and return to “life” in order to be redeemed, not Lizzie as Christ. In this redemptive process, Laura gains freedom from the goblins’ over her through animal imagery. She appears “like the mane of horses in their flight, / Or like an eagle when she stems the light / . . . Or like a caged thing freed, / Or like a flying flag when armies run” (ll. 502‑03, 505‑06). By gorging on goblin juice for one last time she symbolically dies: “like a lightning‑stricken mast, / Like a wind‑uprooted tree / . . . Like a foam‑topped watersprout / Cast down headlong in the sea” (ll. 516‑17, 519‑20). This process is necessary so she can return to her old life. Such “death” produces a resurrection, a “life out of death” (l. 524) in which Laura awakes “as from a dream” (l. 537), with her health and beauty restored (Grass 375). This resurrection contains imagery of the natural world at sunrise (ll. 530‑36) reminiscent of Easter, the penultimate resurrection.

The final scene in the poem finds Laura and Lizzie in the happy, domestic roles of wives and mothers, educating their children on the dangers of goblins, with Laura praising her Christ‑like sister for redeeming her. Laura may appear to be returning to her original domestic state before her goblin fruit experience, but her domestic life after her redemption is not the same as the pre‑goblin one. It is only after Laura is “cured” of her desire for goblin fruit that both she and Lizzie become “wives / With children of their own; / Their mother‑lives beset with fears, / Their lives bound up in tender lives” (ll. 544‑47). She and Lizzie are not sexual objects to be abused, but wives and mothers who have learned to support one another in crises. Laura’s return to life, health, and domesticity is not to a pre‑goblin state of living in nature but to a post‑goblin one of appreciating that innocence of being one with nature, in which Laura can comprehend and cherish her sister’s sacrifice. Laura warns her children of goblin dangers because she remembers the fruit experience. It allows her to physically and spiritually mature in order to take on adult responsibilities, not avoid them.

Whether Laura’s return to a state of domesticity is to an old world or new has been highly debated. According to Antony Harrison such “dualisms, contraries, and oppositions” that exist in the poem “open up a space for decoding the world” and “encoding a new [one]. . . .This potential is . . . truncated . . . by a deliberate reintroduction of the conventional world and [its] expectations” (18). Elizabeth Helsinger concurs, stating, “Lizzie and Laura triumph over the market only to withdraw from it” (907). However, the poem does not support such a reading. Laura’s “old lifestyle” is “destroyed”; her “rebirth . . . does not repudiate the experience of sin” (Eberle 192, 195). There has been a change; the potential for a new world expands. Rossetti expects readers to see Laura’s “new” world and beginning in this light because of Easter imagery. In this new world, Laura can warn her children of the dangers of goblins, which she could not do before without experiencing such dangers firsthand. This new world also finds Laura viewing her sister as a “savior” and “friend,” which was not possible before her goblin fruit experience.

Although Laura and Lizzie return to a quiet, domestic life as wives and mothers, men as husbands and fathers are conspicuously absent. It is Lizzie who “st[ands] / In deadly peril” (l. 557‑58) to save Laura from “wicked, quaint fruit‑merchant men” (l. 553), not Laura’s husband. It is Lizzie who “win[s] the fiery antidote” (l. 559). She is praised, again as a Christ figure, for being both an earthly, and spiritual, friend and guide on life’s journey, not Laura’s husband: “‘For there is no friend like a sister / . . . To cheer one on the tedious way, / To fetch one if one goes astray,/ To lift one if one totters down, / To strengthen whilst one stands’” (ll. 562, 564‑67). Rossetti’s portrayal of Lizzie as a female Christ overturns the traditional view of the husband as symbolic “savior” and “Christ.” As Lynda Palazzo and Diane D’Amico note, such a portrayal is subversive.

The final scene is a form of renunciation, but what it consists of is not Laura’s repudiation of her to embrace the higher, spiritual realm. Nor is she renouncing her feminist nature to embrace Victorian domesticity. Instead, Laura has learned to renounce her carnal desires so she can embrace her sexuality in its pure, proper sphere: marriage, a domestic state uniting sexual and spiritual. Laura’s return does not force an unequal dichotomy between her earthly and spiritual natures, in which she must choose one and renounce the other; instead, it unites the two natures. Rossetti is often preoccupied in her with death and the afterlife, but not here; the focus is on how to make Lizzie and Laura’s earthly lives better (Eberle 176). Such domesticity is “a sign of solidarity and hope for the future” (Palazzo 22). The poem ends on a positive note, for it “gives women money, fruit, pleasure, children, and . . . laughter” (Leighton 140). Thomas Carlyle notes, “It is only with Renunciation . . . that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin” (145).

Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” is not a story of renouncing sensual desires to embrace the spiritual nature. Neither is it a story of renouncing modern views of women to return to a life of traditional, Victorian domesticity. Instead, “Goblin Market” is the story of two sisters who have learned to renounce their carnal sensuality, represented by goblin men and fruit, in order to embrace a purer form of that sensuality in the Victorian context of marriage. According to Rossetti, marriage is the highest, earthly union of sexual passion and spiritual oneness. She portrays Lizzie as Christ in her redemption of Laura to demonstrate the multiple meanings of renunciation and the sanctity of marriage: the perfect union of body and soul.


References

Bentley, D. M. R. “The Meretricious and the Meritorious in Goblin Market: A Conjecture and an Analysis.” The Achievement of Christina Rossetti. Ed. David Kent. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1987. 57‑81.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus. 1834. Eds. Kerry McSweeney and Peter Sabor. Oxford, NY: Oxford UP, 1987.

D’Amico, Diane. Christina Rossetti: Faith, Gender, and Time. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1999.

DeVitis, A. A. “‘Goblin Market’: Fairy Tale and Reality.” Journal of Popular Culture 1.4 (1968): 418‑26.

Eberle, Roxanne. Chastity and Transgression in Women’s Writing, 1792‑1897: Interrupting the Harlot’s Progress. London: Palgrave, 2002.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth‑Century Literary Imagination. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.

Grass, Sean C. “Nature’s Perilous Variety in Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” Nineteenth‑Century Literature 51.3 (1996): 356‑76. <http://www.jstor.org> 24 Feb. 2005

Harrison, Antony. Christina Rossetti in Context. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988.

Helsinger, Elizabeth K. “Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” ELH 58.4 (1991): 903‑33. <http://www.jstor.org> 24 Feb. 2005

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Leighton, Angela. Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart. Victorian Literature and Series. Eds. Karen Chase, Jerome J. McGann, and Herbert Tucker. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1992.

Mermin, Dorothy. “Heroic Sisterhood in ‘Goblin Market.’” Victorian Poetry 21.2 (1983): 107‑18.

Packer, Lona Mosk. “Symbol and Reality in Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” PMLA 73.4 (1958): 375‑85. <http://www.jstor.org> 24 Feb. 2005

Palazzo, Lynda. Christina Rossetti’s Feminist Theology. Cross‑Currents in and Culture. Eds. Elisabeth Jay and David Jasper. London: Palgrave, 2002.

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Goblin Market and Other Poems. 1862. The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti: A Varorium Edition. Ed. R. W. Crump. Vol. 1. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1979. 11‑26.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

The Victorian Age was a time of rapid economic, social, and cultural change throughout England. Beginning in the late 1700s and early 1800s, industry began to take shape in Britain, launching England into an era characterized... MORE»
Advertisement
Carole Counihan argues that ‘men’s and women’s ability to produce, provide and consume food is a key measure of their power,’ (1998:2) whilst Jack Goody has argued, ‘gender hierarchies are maintained... MORE»
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh (1856) is an apocalyptic work, as seen in Aurora and Romney’s vision of the New Jerusalem.  Barrett Browning was interested in the Apocalypse in all its literary transformations for most of her adult life, as seen in many of her letters and poems. The English... MORE»
This paper looks at the poet John Donne’s method of incorporating sexual imagery into religious and spiritual contexts. The main features of Donne’s technique arise from his notion of ecstasy. Donne’s ecstasy... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Literature

2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
In his poem ‘Punishment’ from the poetry collection North (1975), Seamus Heaney picks up the voice of a witness who is suspended between the possibilities of love, silence, voyeurism, outrage and above all, the understanding of the process... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
Sexual violence and coercion became hot topics in 2017, with endless headlines. However, these problems and issues are not new, nor are they confined to a single segment of society. Rather, they have longstanding roots within patriarchal society... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 01
Both Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf detail memories of having intense shocks into consciousness during their early childhoods, where they are suddenly aware that they are beings alive, in a reality governed by temporality and humanistic revelations... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 12
Since its emergence in the 19th century, fantasy fiction has proliferated throughout the world, from the global craze of Lord of the Rings (1954) to Harry Potter (1997). As a sub-genre of fantasy based on Chinese traditional mythology and martial... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
The arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the “New World” at the end of the fifteenth century triggered an age of violence, oppression, and colonization that lasted until the United States took the stage as a modern colonial power in 1898... Read Article »
2010, Vol. 2 No. 01
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is about a man on a voyage by ship, who in one impulsive and heinous act, changes the course of his life – and death.  The Mariner faces an inner struggle over... Read Article »
2010, Vol. 2 No. 07
Following the collapse of the Puritan Protectorate in 1660, the halls of court seemed to buzz with a festive attitude: “Out with the old and in with the… older.” Cavalier revelries under Charles II regained the notoriety of their... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

The Career Value of the Humanities & Liberal Arts
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
"Should I Go to Graduate School?"