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Biblical Christian Similitude and the effects of Contemporary Victorian Ideals in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”

Throughout the centuries narratives have been used to instruct, entertain, and to uplift the soul. The many Christian themed poems and narratives of the Victorian period are no exception to this pattern. Christina Rossetti’s poetic narrative, “Goblin Market,” bases itself upon and often mirrors biblical Christian motifs such as temptation, sin, grace and redemption; however, in the final lines of the poem, “Goblin Market” escapes from its similitude to the Christian narrative through the altering of the traditional Christ-like figure to a female savior. This alteration mirrors Rossetti’s society’s contemporary Victorian ideal of the female being the “angel in the home.”

Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem “Goblin Market” begins with the tempting of two young women, Laura and Lizzie, by a group of little goblin men. As Laura and Lizzie fill their pictures with water from the little brook in the vicinity of their home, little goblin men sounding, “full of loves / In the pleasant weather” come walking down a near-by path in the distance (Lines 79-80). These little men are seen to be carrying a great amount of exotic fruits and can be heard, gently, calling out, “Come buy, come buy” (Line 4). They are tempting the young women to come and partake of their sweet fruits. Laura responds to the enticement by saying, “How fair the vine must grow / Whose grapes are so luscious” (Lines 60-61). She then begins to consider purchasing fruits from the goblin men or at least staying to see more of them.

Laura’s sister, Lizzie, however, has different thoughts on the proposition of purchasing fruit from the goblin men. “ ‘No, ’ said Lizzie: ‘No, no, no; / Their offers should not charm us, / Their evil gifts would harm us’ ” (Lines 64-66). Lizzie decides that it would be better to leave towards the safety of home before the goblin men arrive and pleads her sister Laura to do the same. “Curious Laura, ” however, decides to stay and observe the little goblin men and their wares; her “[…] restraint is gone” (Lines 69 and 86). She has decided to no-longer resist the call of the little goblin men. She unlike her sister Lizzie will “come and buy”.

These first few stanzas of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” show great similitude to the biblical motif of temptation. The goblin men and their words “full of loves” represent those evil men with “good words and fair speeches [that] deceive the hearts of the simple” that the bible so often warns of (Romans 16:18). The following verses from the Bible and verses with like themes can also be seen to have an influence on “Goblin Market”:

“My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: […] My, son walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: […] Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.” (Proverbs 1:10-31)

The semblance to the above verses and the many other like verses dispersed throughout the Bible to Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” is undeniable. The enticement of the “sinners” in Proverbs, “come with us,” is not all that different from Rossetti’s goblin men’s “come buy, come buy”. Proverbs’ council to “refrain thy foot from their path” is the same message Lizzie tried to communicate to Laura before her retreat home. The reference to fruit in the 31st verse, which in this biblical instance is a reference to the product of these sinners’ sins, can definitely be used in an interpretation of the “Goblin Market” where the fruit being carried by the little goblin men represents sin. Thus, the back lying meaning and symbolism of the first few stanzas of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” can be said to have its foundation firmly planted in the Bible and traditional Christian teachings on temptation.

In the next section of lines in “Goblin Market,” from about line xxx to xxx, Christian motifs and biblical similitude are continued to be utilized; however, the motifs of temptation and sin are now focused on. Laura, now firmly convinced to see the goblin men and their wares up close, walks down the path forbidden by her sister, confronts the goblin men on their way, and attempts to purchase the wondrous fruit of which they posses. The goblin men will not take any of her earthly possessions in exchange for their fruit, but rather want something of herself; a lock of her golden hair. “Buy from us with a golden curl,” they say (Line 125). This lock of hair clearly represents the Christian idea of the giving up of one’s soul and one’s innocents to evil, in this case the goblin men, for the purpose of worldly pleasure and gain, represented by the goblin men’s fruit.

When Laura partakes of the goblin men’s fruit she is symbolically following the role of Eve in the book of Genesis when she was “beguiled” by the serpent, representing evil, and “did eat” of the forbidden fruit, or in other words did heed to evil’s temptations (Genesis 3:13). Also, just as with Eve’s fruit, the fruit of the goblin men did not fulfill its promise of eternal happiness. The joys of both the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the fruit possessed by the goblin men can only be experienced once. After the first experience all innocents is gone; the experience is over and cannot be experienced again. Laura, as did Eve, mourns the loss of her innocents, her joy, and her future. In true biblical similitude, Laura, as did the Bible’s Eve, begins to die.

Following the stanzas focusing on the Christian motifs of temptation and sin Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” is completed in following the traditional pattern of Christian narratives by moving on to the motifs of grace and redemption. When Lizzie sees her sister’s state after partaking of the goblin men’s fruit she longs to comfort her sister by purchasing more fruit for her. This she thinks might improve Laura’s sate of being. Lizzie, however, does not purchase this fruit because she fears “to pay too dear” (Line 311). She fears that the cost of her sister’s happiness would be the loss of her innocents and Lizzie is not ready to make that sacrifice. That is, “Till Laura dwindling / Seemed knocking at Death’s door: / Then Lizzie weighed no more, ” and went out directly to find the goblin men and purchase of their fruits (Lines 320-322).

Lizzie finds to the goblin men, but refuses to partake of their fruits. She, unlike her sister Laura before her, only wishes to purchase some for her sister’s wellbeing. The goblin men refuse to sell their fruit for a worldly penny and begin attempts to force Lizzie to partake of the forbidden fruit. “White and golden Lizzie stood, ” as the Bible teaches every good Christian should, against the goblin men’s evil attacks (Line 410). Finally, bruised, beaten, and covered in the sweet juices of the goblin men’s fruits Lizzie returns home to her sister:

“She cried ‘Laura, ’ up the garden, / ‘Did you miss me? / Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / 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: / For your sake I have braced the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant men.’ ” (Lines 464-474)

Laura embraces her sister covered in juice and through her sisters sacrifice is “saved” from a miserable future of mourning and despair. These final stanzas of “Goblin Market” not only provide a joyous end to the narrative poem, but are also a point of great shift in the narrative. In these last lines Rossetti strays from the traditional Christian narrative slightly by replacing the Christ-like character with a female savior, Lizzie.

Christina Rossetti’s variance in the “Goblin Market” from the traditional Christian narrative is most definitively shown through the analysis of lines 464 to 474. Firstly, Lizzie’s bruises “squeezed from goblin fruits” and her request for Laura to come and touch her is in complete similitude to the Bible wherein the Lord says, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see […]” (Luke 24:39). Christ’s wounds, as are Lizzie’s, were made in sacrifice to cleanse another of his or her sins. Lizzie is once again set up as a Christ-like figure when she says “eat me, drink me, and love me.” This correlates directly to the Last Supper where the Lord commands His disciples to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of the sacrifice He made for them. Lastly, when Lizzie says, “for your sake I have braved the glen / and had to do with goblin […] men, ” she is mirroring Christ’s prophesied mission to “[…] save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

The result of Rossetti’s shift to a female savior is not earth shattering, but its reasoning is quit interesting. In Christina Rossetti’s contemporary Victorian society the prevailing thought about women was that they should be the center of religious morals and thoughts within a household, i.e. “the angel in the home”. It was the woman’s duty to ensure the morality and spiritual health of her family. And so is the prevailing theme throughout the “Goblin Market”; two women on a symbolically spiritual journey; facing temptation and overcoming sin; being examples of good Christian women heeding to biblical Christian teachings. Through biblical similitude and concentration on the traditional Christian motifs of temptation, sin, grace and redemption, Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem “Goblin Market” enforces traditional Christian and her societies contemporary beliefs through an exciting and uplifting narrative featuring, in a non-traditional twist, a female savior figure.