Friday, November 22, 2013

Victorian Fantasy: Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

Having missed last month’s meeting of the Victorian Fantasy discussion group, on J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, as I was out of town that day, I was happy to be back this month to discuss Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market.” Although fewer attended than usual, there was a lively discussion from a mix of regular members and newcomers.

Rossetti, sister of pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who prepared illustrations for his sister’s 1862 book Goblin Market and Other Poems), publicly claimed that the poem was intended for children, while privately saying the opposite. The poem certainly contains vivid sensual imagery, starting with a lengthy description of the ripe fruit the goblins are selling, fruit that is “Sweet to tongue and sound to eye.” Two sisters listen to the goblins calling out while hiding from them. Lizzie “veil’d her blushes” though the sisters had “tingling cheeks and finger tips” at the men.

Despite warning Lizzie that the sisters “must not look at goblin men” or “buy their fruits” as “Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?”, Laura does look, and is tempted by the goblins’ wares. Although Laura has no money, the goblins ask for nothing but a lock of her hair and she gorges herself on their fruit. Later, though she wants to return to the market for more, she can no longer hear the goblins and begins to waste away. In desperation, Lizzie returns to the market to buy fruit for her sister. The goblins, upon hearing that the fruit is not for her, viciously assault Lizzie and attempt to force their fruit upon her. She resists. Returning home, Laura tastes the juices of the fruit left on Lizzie and, though now repulsed by the taste, Laura is restored to health the next morning.

Although the discussion focused on the sensual, even sexual imagery in the text and the view that the poem is a metaphor for relations between men and women, some suggested alternative explanations, including the idea that the aggressive goblins represented advertising methods of the time, or that the poem was about sisterly love, or even the possibility that, as Rossetti claimed publicly, that the poem was meant for children and that the story was a tale to amuse and scare the young. In any event, all seemed to enjoy the work and the multiple possible interpretations of it.

Participating in the discussion were:

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Sir JJ Drinkwater

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Dame Kghia Gherardi

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Miss Janet Riadra

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Miss Sanchia Bumblefoot

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Miss Curious Sciurus (foreground)

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Mr. Michael Romani

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Mr. David Raymondson, typing on his clever keyboard while also smoking a cigar

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Your humble author

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