Gloria Mundi's Reviews > Goblin Market

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
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's review
Feb 21, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fairy-tales, poetry, magic, curiouser-and-curiouser, fae
Read on February 21, 2012

What a peculiar story this is. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who go to fetch some water every day and on their way they hear the cries of the goblin men selling all manner of luscious exotic fruit:

Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather

Wise Lizzie keeps her head down and ignores the goblin men's cries of "Come buy, come buy" but Laura is fascinated. She hangs back one evening, buys some fruit with a golden curl and "a tear more rare than pearl" and then:

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;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather’d up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone.

Lizzie, "full of wise upbraidings", waits at the house for her sister, and the next day when the two go to fetch the water in the evening, Laura realises that she can no longer see the goblin men or hear their cries. Laura turns sick with longing for more of the forbidden fruit and, when she appears to be at death's door, incorruptible Lizzie decides to brave the goblin men and heads out into the forest to buy some fruit for her sister. The goblin men are at first willing to sell fruit to Lizzie but when they realise that she wants to take it away and give it to someone else, they turn on her:

Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

But virtuous Lizzie refuses to open her mouth so that even a drop of the fruit juice wouldn't trickle in and runs home, where she invites her sister to:

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;

Whereupon Laura miraculously recovers and they both live happily ever after.

So, what on earth is this story all about? Is this an exploration on "feminine sexuality and its relation to Victorian social mores" (quoting Wiki here), is it an allegory of temptation and salvation, is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of pre-marital sex or addiction, a celebration of lesbian/sisterly love (choose as you will), a treatise against advertising? All of these, none of them?

Whatever it was, it was a lot of fun. And I disagree with those readers that say that this is definitely not for the children. I read this with my daughter (who is 10) and it is only as dirty as your mind makes it to be (although she did go ewww when Laura was licking the juice off of Lizzie).

We read one of the free versions of this poem available online but I didn't want us to miss out on the illustrations so we did a bit of googling and we looked at the many wonderful pictures that come up and stumbled across this version, which I think deserves a particular mention.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Kaethe Well, that particular version has a strong message, if not an entirely clear one.

I'm not clearer on the story's point, but great review. I suppose if I just think of it as something to hang great pre-Raphaelite art onto, that is sufficient.

I agree that there's nothing in the text to keep it away from kids or prurient oldsters. Although I do take a warning about previewing any illustrated version. Of course, given how much the great artists of Western Civilization have delighted in showing naked chicks in unlikely situations, I keep that in mind about museums, too.

Gloria Mundi I was very confused about exactly what it was trying to say. My daughter thought the message was - do not take fruit from strange goblin men, which is as good an interpretation as any. I suppose, the multiplicity of interpretations is exactly what makes this interesting... that and the sexual undertones. Nothing like a bit of titillation.

Kaethe I'm going to keep it in my mind as a lesson on the dangers of fruit.

Cecily I think you're completely correct about suitability for children; they can't infer what they don't already have some knowledge of.

Kaethe, it's meant as a warning against goblin men (well, really, just men); I hope you don't get scurvy! ;)

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