There are numerous instances of sexuality portrayed in Christina Rossetti’s poems. This is particularly apparent in one of her longer works, The Goblin Market. This poem presents sisters Laura and Lizzie who have been warned to stay away from the Goblins who sell fruits. These goblins possess fruits of great temptation for Laura. Immediately we are presented odd tale, but how does it translate to more sexual connotations?
Firstly, it is worth mentioning that the Goblins are all men, and not outwardly appealing at that. “One had a cat’s face / One whisked a tail…” (p 3). Yet it seems as though all of the women in the poem lust after something that the Goblins possess. Laura falls prey to the tempting songs of the Goblins and seeks to buy their fruit. In this context I take fruit to be associated with copulation. The two main characters of the poem have been warned against perusing a forbidden act with these “men”, particularly because of their foreign descent. Despite this, the appeal of the forbidden draws Laura to literally give up a part of herself to receive the “sweet fruits” of the Goblins. In the case of the poem, it is the “…gold upon [Laura’s] head” (p 4), but interpretations might lead readers to understand it as Laura selling her purity to the Goblins; note the way we interpret colors can also be used to link the idea of gold to goodness and purity.
Meanwhile, Laura receives the fruit of the Goblins, and is completely entranced by it. “Sweeter than honey from the rock / Stronger than man-rejoicing wine / Clearer than water flowed that juice…” (p 4). Yet after Laura has her fill, the Goblins appear to her no more. She has lost her virginity in both a literal and figurative sense, and as she has had a taste of the forbidden fruit, she also is made more and more miserable without it. “Day after day, night after night / Laura kept watch in vain / In sullen silence of exceeding pain…” (p 8). Laura lives with the longing for the moments of bliss and pleasure she once had from engaging with the Goblins, but they are gone from her and she cannot live as she had before.
The poem brings into question the liberty of women, particularly sexual liberty. While Laura is told by everyone, her sister included, that she cannot seek out her own temptations, she does not honestly keep herself from her wants, and because of this nearly ends up miserable. The tale seems to be a cautionary one, not only about unwed sex, but about women not pursuing that which is socially beyond their reach.