One of the central themes in Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market is the “fruit forbidden” (Rosetti 478) – sold by the goblin men – that both Laura and Jeanie eat. After giving in to the temptation both women start to waste away. Jeanie, who appears in the poem only as a cautionary tale of the past, even dies and on her grave “no grass will grow” (Rosetti 158). Laura can, however, be saved by her sister’s actions and eventually survives. The main question remains: Why do these women have to suffer for tasting the goblins’ fruits? What do these fruits actually stand for?
An obvious explanation could be a reference to the biblical tale of Adam and Eve. As the original woman, Eve is tempted by the snake, tastes the forbidden fruit and therefore causes God to ban humanity from paradise. This parallel implies that Jeanie and Laura equally commit a sin when they eat the goblin’s fruits. This would also account for the fact that Jeanie’s grave seems to be cursed in a way. Jeanie might remind us of Mina Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who becomes ‘unclean’ after one of the Count’s attacks. Jeanie dies in sin and therefore never receives redemption. She, like Mina, is unclean and never regains her original purity.
Still, the question remains: Why do the goblins’ fruits represent a sin in the Victorian context? A possible explanation is that the fruit – and more specifically the act of eating the fruit – is heavily sexualized in Rosetti’s poem. The author describes it as follows:
“She [Laura] sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore.” (Rosetti 134-136)
This language (especially the words ‘sucking’ and ‘sore lips’) imply connotations of oral sex. Giving in to the goblins’ temptations therefore does not only mean eating fruit but somehow seems to equal partaking in sexual relations. Since Laura and Lizzie are described as unmarried “maids” (Rosetti 2), these premarital sexual relations would have conflicted with the prevailing Victorian ideals of womanhood.
Interestingly, Christina Rosetti’s own views on the position of women in the Victorian society are said to have been “usually far from conservative and often questioning, challenging and potentially subversive” (Avery). Why, then, would Rosetti have written a poem like Goblin Market that seems to strengthen the general Victorian belief that women who give in to their sexual temptations like Jeanie and Laura committed sin and would die because of it? Possibly, Rosetti’s goal was to highlight the fact that, even though Laura makes a mistake by giving to the goblin men, due to Lizzie’s efforts she survives and receives redemption. Rosetti implies that Victorian women are not either pure and virtuous or entirely promiscuous. Rather, they can make the wrong decision at some point and still, later in their lives, fulfil the ideal of a Victorian woman who is married “with children of [her] own” (Rosetti 545).
Avery, Simon: “Christina Rossetti: gender and power”. <<https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/christina-rossetti-gender-and-power>> (12 Nov 2017)
Rosetti, Christina: “Goblin Market.” Goblin Market and Other Poems.