Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

Well, I hope that I have not been overly influenced by my seminar class on the art of love (which stresses all things Freudian and strange and for which this poem is also due on Thursday April 1), but I noticed some weird love relationships in this poem. First, there is the strange and inordinate desire to taste the fruit of the goblin men, even though Laura and Lizzie know they shouldn’t. Laura, however, cannot resist and succumbs to their seduction, becoming a slave to her desire. She begins to wither and die because she cannot get any more fruit, she cannot even hear or see the goblin men. This part—to me—suggests a sexual metaphor. She has given herself to the goblin men and satisfied both of their desires—to “come buy” and to eat. Since she has given away part of herself; as Lizzie puts it when referring to Jeanie: “Who should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have / Fell sick and died” (ll. 313-315). The “joys brides hope to have” seems to refer to the sexual relationship of the wedding night. Second, there is the bizarre relationship between Lizzie and Laura. They are sisters, but share one bed and sleep “Cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest” (ll. 197-198). Also, Lizzie’s language after she goes to get fruit to satisfy Laura’s desires is very erotic: “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, / Goblin pulp and goblin dew. / Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me” (ll. 468-472). Laura’s response to Lizzie’s invitation is the following: “She clung about her sister, / Kissed and kissed and kissed her… / She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth” (ll. 485-486, 492). This seems abnormal, exorbitant, just a little strange. As we see in the picture that precedes the poem, the sisters are locked in a loving embrace. It is the natural pose for two lovers sleeping together rather than two sisters. Also, it seems that Laura is dreaming of the goblin men and their fruits as she sleeps. These two representations of “love” are both strange, especially since the poem ends on the slightly didactic note of “For there is no friend like a sister” even though both sisters have married and had children (l. 562). Overall, I had to ask, ‘What is this poem trying to get at?’ There is the warning against giving oneself to men and the message to trust in sisters, but both sisters do marry men and have children. Any thoughts?


  1. You'll get some more information on this in the presentation tomorrow, but Rossetti was EXTREMELY close with her entire family which included two sisters. I read a lot of the closeness she includes between the two as unintentionally homoerotic.

  2. And perhaps made more intentionally homoerotic by Gabriel Rossetti's illustrations? As Alec suggests, it was common in Romantic and Victorian England for women to have very close, intimate (but not sexual) relationships with other women, and their siblings of both sexes. Dorothy and William Wordsworth, for example, very very close, and Dorothy continued to live with William after his marriage (and in fact for the rest of both of their lives). There are famous examples of lesbian couples in this period: the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, lived in seclusion in Wales (after having run away from their families to escape forced marriages), and their home became an important gathering spot for intellectuals and artists.