Christina Rossetti was born in England and had an Italian father. One of her most famous poems is Goblin Market, written in 1859. It tells the story of a young girl who saves her sister from death by risking her own life. The finale gives us the moral of the story: ‘There is no friend like a sister’ which gives it a feminist theme. Sisterhood and female community were important to Rossetti, who worked with prostitutes at the St. Mary Magdalene Home for Fallen Women.
Some people like to read “Goblin Market” as just being about female heroism and sisterhood but you can also read it as a criticism of the way women were treated during the Victorian period. You could also read it as a poem about religion, sexuality or drug addiction. If you’re interested in any of these topics (and we’re sure at least one of those things will catch your attention), “Goblin Market” is definitely for you.
Listen to some lines from Goblin Market:
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in,
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.
Every evening, when sisters Lizzie and Laura go to fetch water from a nearby stream, they hear the tempting calls of goblin men selling delicious fruit. When they see the goblins displaying their wares on golden plates, Lizzie runs home, but Laura is entranced. Although Laura has no money, the goblins accept a lock of her hair as payment for the fruit. Laura drinks the fruit juice and returns home, intoxicated by the sweet nectars. She brings one fruit stone (pit) home with her.
Lizzie meets Laura at the gate to their home and scolds her sister for returning late. She tells the story of their friend Jeanie, who ate a piece of the goblin fruit and then died because she could not get any more.
The next day, Laura cannot see the goblins anymore, although Lizzie still can. Laura becomes tired and ill. Lizzie fears that Laura will soon die, so she goes to the goblin men to get some fruit for her sister, but the goblins invite Lizzie to join their feast instead. When she refuses, the goblins beat her and try to force the fruit into her mouth, smearing her face with juice. She resists and the goblins get tired of torturing her.
Lizzie returns home and tells Laura to kiss the juice on her face. It acts like a poison and Laura collapses into a deathlike state. Lizzie stays with her sister all night and in the morning, when Laura awakes, her health and beauty are restored.