Feminist Reading Of Goblin Market

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Abstract: The main purpose of this paper is to show the oppression that women experienced in their everyday lives in the Victorian era. It aims to make people aware of how they struggled to find their own identities and prosper as individuals because they were—and still are—subject to patriarchy. These issues will be explored through a piece of literature written by a woman who had a first hand view of these struggles and was very vocal about it in her work. In order to do so, this paper has been divided into three sections.

The very first one introduces the situation women were facing at that time, focusing on the progress the suffragette movement was making towards women’s rights in England and an overview of the rights and privileges they actually had. In the second one, Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market will be analyzed from a feminist point of view, especially through the themes of female sexuality, women in the workplace and the importance of sisterhood. It will also consider the poet’s relationship with her faith and how she deals with a religion that essentially leaves women out. The last part highlights the importance of giving visibility to the gender gap, of continuing to fight for equality and for female figures to raise awareness through writing, film-making or making art.

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Keywords: Christina Rossetti, female writers, feminism, sisterhood, Victorian era.


As a woman living in 19th century England, Christina Rossetti was a victim of a patriarchal society where she was systematically oppressed. A very important step in the path towards equality was taken when Mary Smith presented the first petition for women’s suffrage to the British Parliament in 1832 (Wingerden 2). From that moment onwards more and more suffragettes began to advocate for the right to vote and thus the suffragette movement started to gain attention in the UK during the Victorian era.

Even though women had become aware of their position of inferiority and were actively participating in the fight for their rights, they were still expected to stick to taking care of their household and children and those who were part of the working class were very restrained and their wages were lower than those of their male coworkers. Their rights and privileges were therefore far from being the same as men’s, they were in fact subject to orders dictated by men and hence were unable to fully develop as human beings.

This is the context in which Goblin Market (1862) was written, a narrative poem that follows the tale of sisters Laura and Lizzie who are tempted by the goblins.

A Woman’s World: An analysis of Goblin Market

Critics have interpreted this poem in several ways. It has been read as a homosexual poem, as a critique of capitalism, and the story has even been paralleled to drug addiction. However, this paper will focus solely on its feminist interpretation.

Goblin Market has often been produced as a children’s poem (McGowran XIV) but, in order for it to be appropriate for that audience, some passages had to be edited because of the references to sexuality, especially female sexuality: ‘‘She sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked until her lips were sore;’’ (Rossetti 16). Scholl states that Rossetti does not refer to it as if it were something sinful, which is a radical move considering Victorian women were forbidden from sexual pleasure, for they were meant to be pure women—‘‘the Angel in the House’’.

It is also interesting to mention the introduction of prostitution in the poem, which is something that many women had to face. Laura does not have any money to pay the goblins with, so she gives them a lock of her hair instead, thus selling a part of her body:

I have no copper in my purse,

I have no silver either,

And all my gold is on the furze

That shakes in windy weather

Above the rusty heather.’

‘You have much gold upon your head,’

They answered all together:

‘Buy from us with a golden curl.’ (Rossetti 16)

Many women did not make enough money to be able to support themselves or their families and that is why they resorted to prostitution. But once prostitutes, the Victorian society saw them as unhealthy individuals and a disgrace, making them unable to be redeemed and to work in any other position. As Barrett explains, ‘‘women were being forced into a situation that society did not accept, however this role was created by the working situation that society created for women’’ (24).

Goblin Market takes place in a world that is mainly female. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who apparently live alone and even later on when they both have children and are referred to as ‘wives’, the only male figures mentioned in the story are the goblins, who are presented as ugly and mean creatures:

Their look were evil.

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,

Twitch’d her hair out by the roots,

Stamp’d upon her tender feet, (Rossetti 23)

According to Mermin, it is ‘‘a world in which men serve only the purpose of impregnation’’ (114). Furthermore, the most powerful message of the poem lies within the last stanza, when Laura and Lizzie are telling their children about their experiences with the goblins:

‘For there is no friend like a sister

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray,

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.’ (Rossetti 27)

The sisters are so passing on this story to their kids, teaching them the importance of creating a bond between women, of supporting and helping each other out and being stronger together.

However, it is quite striking how she reconciles all the issues mentioned earlier in this analysis with religion. Christianity was the dominating element in Rossetti’s life (Palazzo 1) and was consequently very present in her poetry. She was very aware of the male conception of God in her religion, which was alien to woman’s experience and was worried about the negative imagining of the feminine (8).

In Goblin Market, the temptation of the goblins recalls the temptations of the Garden of Eden: both the sisters and Eve fall into that temptation and eat the fruit, but while Eve is blamed and punished for it, Laura is redeemed and able to go on with their lives. Moreover, Lizzie takes on the role of Christ and becomes the savior, confronting the goblins so that her sister lives (McGowran XV):

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 braved the glen

And had to do with goblin merchant men.’ (Rossetti 25)


Now that Goblin Market has been analyzed, providing an insight into women’s oppression during the Victorian era, this paper has achieved to show how patriarchal society alienates women and stops them from achieving their goals and from growing as a person overall.

This paper has not only aimed to bring these issues to the table, but also to encourage people to take action against them. Through the themes of female sexuality, women as workers, sisterhood and religion, it has been made clear that women suffered from inequality in most aspects of their lives. Sadly, this is still a topic of concern today and in order to put an end to this dreadful situation, it is essential keep putting pressure on politicians and fighting in the streets but to do so, it is important for women to be given spaces where they can create, be it novels, movies or art, and be vocal about their own struggles, so that feminist ideas leave an actual mark on society and more people engage in the movement.

Works Cited

  1. Barrett, Kara L. Victorian Women and Their Working Roles. 2013. State University of New York college at Buffalo, PhD dissertation.
  2. Mermin, Dorothy. ‘‘Heroic Sisterhood in Goblin Market’’. Victorian Poetry, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), pp. 107-118. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40002024.
  3. Palazzo, Lynda. Christina Rossetti’s Feminist Theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  4. Rossetti, Christina and Katherine McGowran. Selected Poems of Christina Rossetti. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1995.
  5. Scholl, Lesa. ‘‘Fallen or Forbidden: Rossetti’s Goblin Market’’. The Victorian Web, 23 Dec. 2003: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/scholl.html.
  6. Wingerden, Sophia A. van. The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain, 1866-1928. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.


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