Christina Rossetti, selected poems Contents
- A Better Resurrection
- A Birthday
- A Royal Princess
- At Home
- Cousin Kate
- Despised and Rejected
- Goblin Market
- Good Friday
- Jessie Cameron
- Maude Clare
- Shut Out
- Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
- Summer is Ended
- The Convent Threshold
- The Lowest Place
- To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy
- Winter: My Secret
'Goblin Market' - Synopsis and commentary
Stanzas 1-5: Two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, go to collect water at dusk, when they hear the enticing cries of goblin traders selling luscious fruit. Lizzie is alert to the danger of engaging with the goblins and runs home, but Laura is entranced. The goblins notice this and although she has no money, sell her all sorts of delicious fruit, for the price of a curl of her hair. Laura devours the fruit until she is intoxicated, then returns home, with one fruit stone in her possession.
Stanzas 6-15: Lizzie is concerned for her sister, knowing that a friend of theirs, Jeanie, pined away and died after eating the goblins' fruit, but at first all seems well. The sisters sleep calmly together and next day do their chores. That evening, after collecting the water, Laura waits to hear the goblins come again, despite Lizzie's warnings. However, whilst Lizzie is still able to see and hear the goblins, Laura can now no longer do so. Yearning for the fruit she cannot get, Laura loses her health and youthful beauty. She tries to plant the fruit stone but it does not grow. In despair, Laura stops eating or doing any chores.
Stanzas 16-23: To alleviate her sister's sufferings, though aware of Jeanie's fate, Lizzie decides to buy some goblin fruit with a silver penny. This delights the goblins until Lizzie asks that they put the fruit in her apron and refuses to eat it. The goblins try to persuade her otherwise, then attack her, trying to force the fruit into her mouth. Lizzie resists and although her face is smeared with juice, refuses to open her mouth. At last, the goblins toss back the penny and disappear with their fruit. Although battered and bruised, Lizzie races home to her sister.
Stanzas 24-29: Lizzie invites Laura to kiss the juice left on her face, hoping it will be an antidote to her decline. Laura does so, ravenously, although she is concerned for the danger her sister has put herself in. The juice acts like poison, but Laura is unable to stop herself, until finally she collapses, close to death. Through the night Lizzie nurses her sister and in the morning Laura wakes up restored to health and beauty. In later years, when both girls have become wives and mothers, Laura warns her children of the danger posed by the goblins and commends the love of her sister in rescuing her.
Meanings and morals
The ambiguity of Goblin Market has meant that, since its publication, readers and critics have continued to analyse and argue about its meaning and the possible morals it contains. Whilst the significance and symbolism of certain aspects of the poem are generally agreed upon, other aspects continue to prove a point of contention.
Investigating Goblin Market
- Rossetti's initial title for her poem was A Peep at the Goblins. What do you think the word ‘peep' suggests?
- The speaker recalls, ‘Lizzie covered up her eyes, / Covered close lest they should look' (lines 50-51). What does this statement say about the dangers of curiosity and temptation?
- Which title (A Peep at the Goblins or Goblin Market) do you prefer and why?
- Why do you think that Rossetti chose the title Goblin Market?
Rossetti composed Goblin Market in 1859 and first published it in Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1862. It is her longest poem and the most widely known and read of all her works. Its publication helped to launch her literary career. It also helped to inspire Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Rossetti dedicated Goblin Market to her sister Maria (see The Life and Times of Christina Rossetti > Adolescence and Adulthood). Ending it with the thought that ‘there is no friend like a sister' (line 562), she reflects on the significance of both natural sisterhood and female community.
A feminist tale?
More on Christina Rossetti and feminism: The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as ‘the advocacy of the rights of women'. Although Rossetti was not generally perceived as a feminist in her own day, the term feminist has been applied to her by various critics. They wish to establish her involvement with the re-writing of tradition, in an attempt to include women where they had been previously excluded. Certainly, Rossetti's writings promote the belief that women are of equal value to men, but that the two genders cannot be confused.
For more information about Rossetti's engagement with the suffrage campaign and her ideas about the status of women in society see Social / political context.
The fruit that the goblins succeed in getting Laura to taste is portrayed as luscious and inviting, appealing to all the senses. It can also be interpreted as the forbidden fruit that Eve tastes in the Garden of Eden. As this fruit led to the exclusion of Adam and Eve from the garden, so, for Laura, tasting the fruit leads to near-death.
Some of the fruit is unfamiliar:
- ‘bullaces' are a kind of damson
- ‘citrons' are a lemon-like fruit.
Lizzie as a Christ figure
- Christians believe that Jesus made himself a willing sacrifice in order to overcome the curse of death that had fallen on humanity when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit
- Echoing this, Lizzie submits to the abuse of the goblin men in order that she save her sister from death and give her the hope of a new life.
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