Christina Rossetti And The Fear Of Sense

In Goblin Market Essay, Research Paper

“Unholy Senses”

The poem “Goblin Market”, by Christina Rossetti, relates the ethical tale of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie. Rossetti constructs the poem surrounding the two women who are unable to access their fully developed intuitions without being subsumed by the men who provide sensory delights. Rossetti establishes this through characterizing the base physical senses as an unfit endeavor for young women to experience. The character Laura, in the poem, is led through a tortuous experience because she follows her intuitions to follow the Goblin men, who through Rossetti’s richly laden verse, are characterized as animalistic and morally debase. Laura is saved by her sister Lizzie, whose character reveals Rossetti’s wish to propagate a life devoid of sensory experience, because it will lead to a greater reward after death. Therefore, Christina Rossetti deems the physical senses as an inappropriate and unholy means of expression for women in her didactic poem “Goblin Market”.

Laura is more willing than Lizzie to induce her sensory perceptions and this leads to her demise. Laura the unwholesome sister of “Goblin Market”, is stimulated and seduced by the Goblins. The first movement of the poem adheres strictly to her senses. This is all the while Lizzie reprimands Laura for “loiter[ing] in the glen”, (ln. 144) with the Goblin men. Although, Laura is severely punished because of her greedy pursuit of pleasure by Rossetti.

The dichotomous position of the two sister’s moral stances on the fulfillment of pleasure in eating the “fruit” is exampled in the first two stanzas of the poem. Laura pronounces, “Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie” (ln. 54), as she tries to engage her sister in sharing a glance at the Goblin men. Lizzie is the consummate modest woman as “She thrust a dimpled finger/ In each ear, shut eyes and ran” (ln. 67-68). Lizzie refuses the “eye candy” that Laura indulges in. Lizzie tries to get Laura to resist by stating that “Their offers should not charm us/ Their evil gifts would harm us”, (ln. 65-66).

Laura does not heed her sister’s warning, but rather satisfies herself with the Goblin men, and consequently, her senses dry up and she quickly withers. Rossetti writes that Laura could no longer her the Goblin men and “turned as cold as stone” (ln. 253), and she wonders if she has “Gone deaf and blind?” (ln 259). Rossetti does not reward Laura for her sumptuous deeds that took place at the Goblin Market. Laura’s life and youth must be relinquished, because her curiosity led her to abuse her physical senses. This is exposed through Rossetti’s repetition of verbs as Laura feeds upon the fruit of the Goblin men, “She sucked and sucked and sucked the more She sucked until her lips were sore” (ln. 134,136).

Through sound and sight, the Goblin men lead the sisters to involve their sensory perceptions of taste, touch, and smell. The Goblin men invite Laura and Lizzie to partake in the physical realm and Rossetti’s imagery insinuates the hedonistic value of their indulgent pleasures. The reader is inundated by the “Come buy” phrase that becomes the signature phrase of the Goblin men. Rossetti goes to elaborate visual lengths to describe the animalistic creatures that entice the young Laura. After the sisters decide to engage with the Goblin’s, Lizzie is besieged physically by the Goblins and Laura’s sense of smell and taste are enriched directly following her occurrence with the men. Through these examples, it is proven that Goblin men are directly correlated with the world of perception and senses, and that the two sisters cannot comply because it will lead to their ruin.

With the phrase “Come buy”, the sisters are lured into the goblins world and their procurements. The poem opens with the familiar phrase of “Come buy” (ln. 3), and it is repeated eighteen additional times in the 567 line poem. The phrase when read aloud could also indicate that the Goblins want the maids to “come by” their haunts. For the goblins never take money from either Laura or Lizzie, but the goblins wish for some company and eventually kick back the coin that Lizzie gives them. Poetically, the phrase is so oft repeated that it becomes a subliminal message to the reader, and is no surprise when Laura takes the goblins up on their offer.

After Laura hears the goblins cry, she peeks at them although Lizzie cries, “Laura, Laura/ You should not peep at goblin men” (ln 46-47). When Laura glances at them, the goblins come alive with Rossetti’s rich imagery that individualizes the goblins,

One had a cat’s face,

One whisked a tail,

One tramped at a rat’s pace,

One crawled like a snail,

One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,

One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry. Ln. 71-76

This description of the goblins, as seen through Laura’s character, emphasizes the circus like and child like (through rhyme) emotion that Laura would have felt upon seeing the goblins. This enticement of visual pleasure ultimately leads Laura to the goblins. Although it should be noted that, Laura and Lizzie are not even given their own physical characteristics by Rossetti. The author describes them as, “Golden head by golden head,/Like two pigeons in one nest” (ln. 184-185). This would further highlight the fact that Laura could be so entranced by creatures that presumably look different from one another.

Rossetti implies that so much deviance surrounds sensory pleasure because it is her belief that resistance and denial of a sensuous life will lead to an eventual spiritual reward. Each of the female characters in the poem represents some paradigm of the connections between the goblins(sensuous life) and women in general. Jeanie, becomes the poster child of hedonism, while Laura is the recovering pleasure-seeking woman. Of course, Lizzie is the model example because she braves the depths of the Goblin Market to save Laura and returns without her hair growing “thin and gray”, (ln. 277).

The character of Jeanie is important because she provides the reader with a case of uncontrollable pleasure gone bad, as Lizzie is always conferring upon Laura. The reader can assume that Jeanie is not rewarded because of her naivete in mingling with the Goblin men, but rather that she is buried and “to this day no grass will grow” (ln. 160), on her grave. That Jeanie is forsaken, even by the natural elements is notable, because Rossetti assumes that this type of desire is not conducive or biological to female entities. (insert something on Victorian ideals and their tendency to be either black or white simultaneously)

Laura’s transformation from a hypnotic state to the living, proves that the fallen woman can be saved. This type of resistance (or should we say recovery) must be channeled through someone else, in Laura’s case, Lizzie. At the end of the poem, Laura is vilified by Rossetti because she is the one telling her children about the “pleasant days long gone” (ln. 550) and not Lizzie. Rossetti implies that Laura is saved and that she went on to live a full life with the aid of her sister. This type of resistance is deemed worthy by Rossetti, but not ideal.

Lizzie’s character is the one who will receive the greatest rewards from her vigilant defiance to the Goblins and their pleasure filled sensory experiences. Lizzie is characterized in the following passage as Christ-like:

They trod and hustled her,

Elbowed and jostled her,

Clawed with their nails

Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking

Tore her gown and soiled her stocking

Stamped upon her tender feet,

Held her hands and squeezed their fruits

Against her mouth to make her eat. (ln. 399-406)

This symbolization is analogous to Christ’s crucifixion. Rossetti deliberately sets up this parallel, so that we see that the road of resistance is difficult but is Christ-like, and it will be compensated for in the after-life.

Sensory deprivation leads to sweetness in the smallest items of existence. Rossetti, through her moral tale “Goblin Market”, was implying that if women were to expand beyond their “sphere” and want the right to pursue life and its pleasures like men, that the chances of moral debasement is great. This seemed to worry Rossetti, but alternately, the fact that she can conjure up such a tale leads the reader wondering if Rossetti herself did not at one time pursue the physical delights of life? Is this a tale of redemption on Rossetti’s part? This is only speculation, but Rossetti clearly sees that the physical senses and the desires that they may produce as unholy and inappropriate for women of character. The didactic tale of “Goblin Market” allows Rossetti to pursue the pleasures but from a moral and ethical distance, after all, she is informing women of the dangers that ensue when she follows the feelings of her body.


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