Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Marriage Market in Victorian Society

Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” brought to surface many ideas and expectations that surrounded women in Victorian culture. Laura specifically resembles women who too easily give in to their sexual desires and take the fruit of these different men. Lizzie represents women who wait to have sex until marriage and who maintain their purity. Both sisters are  tempted by the calling of the goblin men but only one gives in too quickly and engages in sexual activities with the goblin men. This market represents the marriage market that Victorian women were prepared for in order to marry a prosperous suitor. Laura is no longer able to hear the calls from the goblin market because she engages inappropriately with the marriage market by having sex with multiple men. This implies that being promiscuous and having multiple partners calls for a woman to lose access to the marriage market and good suitors. After Laura can no longer hear the goblin men and their calls from the market she becomes incredibly ill, “sullen”, in “exceeding pain”, and “dwindled”. Laura also feels “as if her heart would break” (line 268) and it appears that “her hair grew thin and grey” (line 277). The inability to have access to the marriage market means Laura cannot have a husband and so this leads to her astonishing decay. This implies that women without husbands are infertile, ugly, and physically decayed. Without eligible bachelors then Laura might as well be dying because she has no future of husband and kids, which is what Victorian society expected from women. This poem exemplifies how women’s sexual desires were suppressed in Victorian society through the fear of imaging never finding a husband or having kids and slowly dying. Victorian society made the marriage market selective because it was only meant to be open to women who had followed the strict and constraining rules of society. Thus, promiscuous women, with no apparent chance of a husband,  were made to believe that they would receive life with pain and heartbreak since men were seen as the source to a woman’s happy future.

2 Comments

  1. John H. Watson, M.D.

    December 4, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    The marriage market is so interesting to me because we never talk about the standards for men. These promiscuous women had to be having premarital sex with SOMEONE, but we never talk about the men who share this “sin.” In The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, the main character, Newland Archer, is about to get married in 19th century New York. He is an aristocrat, as is his intended wife. She knows that he’s had several affairs, but they never talk about it. I always wondered about the women he was sleeping with–were they married women? Were they also in the marriage market? Was he leaving them destitute? But it was alright for Newland to sleep around–according to society’s standards, anyway. In fact, it was encouraged for him to have a few discreet affairs before he settled down. But never for women!!

  2. Your comparison between the “goblin market” and the marriage market, as seen through the actions of sisters Laura and Lizzie, truly captures the Victorian ideology you acknowledged about women maintaining purity and eligibility for marriage. This reminds me of the message in Rossetti’s “A Triad,” as the women, like Laura, who give into their passions and temptations only see negative consequences in turn. Hence, a woman is deemed to face a form of punishment, whether it be the physical decay you saw in Laura or the death seen in the women in “A Triad,” as a result of not following the standards and expectations for women in the Victorian time period.

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