Although the goblins depict Rossetti’s opinion of men as sly, scheming creatures, they also refer back to the fairy tale context of the poem. The personification of the goblins would appeal to children as they often appear in fairy tales and folklore. References to the goblins as “little men, hobbling down the glen” create an image illustrative of a child’s imagination and enforce the child like mask the poem uses. The use of the goblin metaphor would appeal greatly to children, but it would be more obvious to an older reader that the goblins are an ongoing metaphor for Rossetti’s opinions of men.
The goblins are not enough to justify the opinion of Goblin Market being for children. Having discussed the fairytale aspects, on the other end of the scale there are frequent references to a sexual nature. The lines that read “Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,” and “Clawed with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking” could be suggesting rape. Christina Rossetti had worked in High Gate Penitentiary, a business devoted to saving lost and loose women, as she has had experience of working with women who’ve been raped she decided to include this in her poetry.
There is also a mention of violence, ‘streaked her neck which quaked like curd. ‘ These references would not have been seen as a description of rape through the eyes of a nineteenth century child. The use of the terms “sucking” and “She sucked until her lips were sore” create very explicit imagery. This would not seem at all like a sexual reference to a child of the nineteenth century, but as previously pointed out it would be seen very clearly as a reference to sex by the youth of today.
Toward the end of the poem a line uttered by Laura, “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices” create another explicit sexual image. This I see as unsuitable for children, and therefore it becomes more apparent that Rossetti did not necessarily intend the poem for children. The continuing references to sex and sexuality distance the poem from being simply a verse for children. From these images of sex and violence we can make the justified opinion that ‘Goblin Market’ was possibly meant for both adults and children.
Through research into Christina Rossetti it is apparent that she was deeply religious. It is no surprise then that religious references are found in her poetry. The reference to the fruits that are consumed by the girls could well be a metaphor for the forbidden fruit that tempted Eve in the creation story of the Bible. However, the fruits may also be a metaphor representing the drug Laudanum, which the Pre-Raphaelite models would constantly use. Also, it describes Lizzie and Laura appearing like angels when sleeping, “Golden head by golden head… Folded in each others wings”.
As we know, angels are often seen as religious creatures, appearing in the Bible, and they are often used to describe purity and virginity. These religious references can be identified easily in the poem, and engage both younger and older readers. The use of two female characters may have some reference to the male dominated society in Victorian Britain. There are no significant female heroes in English literature up to the time of Rossetti. Female protagonists exist, like Elizabeth in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, but they have no outlet for heroic action.
They are bound by the gender-roles into which a male-dominated society had placed them. In ‘Goblin Market,’ Rossetti builds a basic framework of behaviour in which a female hero (or heroin) might operate. Rossetti’s attempts are to some degree successful, though she fails to solve the problem completely. The use of the female characters also allows Rossetti to comment upon the treatment of women by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. While the goblin men “bully” Lizzie, it is said that she “uttered not a word; Would not open lip from lip”.
This described how the female models of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had to remain silent in how they were treated. It also describes later how the goblin men left Lizzie after they had hurt her. This is another reference to the Pre-Raphaelite treatment of women, as once they had had their way they simply left them. The reference to hair in ‘Goblin Market’ again describes the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who saw hair as sensual and essential to a model, or a “stunner” as they were sometimes called.
In Pre-Raphaelite artwork, such as “Flaming June”, hair plays an integral part in creating the female image in which the Pre-Raphaelite were known for. The giving away of a lock of hair in the poem is a metaphor representing the giving away of the character’s body to these “goblins” (or Pre-Raphaelite men). Lizzie mentions the character of Jeanie, who supposedly “met them (the goblins) in the moonlight” and “Took their gifts” and eventually “pined and pined away” after she “sought them by night and day”.
This is most likely a reference to another model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who contracted Graves Disease, which led to the wearing away of the body. This could be seen as a caution to all women that read the poem, as they should beware of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as they would lead to suffering. The poem may also be considered a cautionary tale by the win in which self-sacrifice is shown. Laura believes that Lizzie “tasted the forbidden fruit” for the sake of her sister. This would demonstrate to young girls that it is important to stick with your sister.
Apart from this, it also promotes self-sacrifice as virtuous and good. The description of Laura’s “gleaming neck, like a rush-imbedded swan” depicts how the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood illustrated their models. This can be seen in such pictures as ‘Ask Me No More’ by Lawrence Alma-Tadema and ‘The Betrothed’ by John William Godward, among other Pre-Raphaelite works. The anti Pre-Raphaelite undertones of the poem would not have been noticed by the children of the nineteenth century to whom the poem was supposedly aimed at.
However, after some research into Christina Rossetti’s life and time, it is clear that the poem contains criticisms of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These references give the poem a deeper hidden message that children without background knowledge, like those of the nineteenth century, would find hard to notice. This again supports claims that ‘Goblin Market’ may also be a poem for adult readers. After examining Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ and many of it’s themes and undertones, I have come to the conclusion that it is neither a child’s poem or an adults poems, but includes criteria for both.
The political, social, and personal factors that were used in the creation of the poem make it a work that seems to be for the adult reader, but as these are all masked by Rossetti’s fairy-tale context, it works very well on both levels. For me, part of the appeal of ‘Goblin Market’ lies in the uncertainty of interpretation, the engaging doubt as to whether any definite parable is intended or whether the poem should be enjoyed simply as a fairy-tale fable.