Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: thoreauly_written

Goblin Market: Animal Tropes and Instinct

In Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, it can be argued that there is a definitive ranking of the species mentioned in the book– the sisters, Laura and Lizzie, are obviously higher ranked than the savage, sexually driven goblins described in the poem. However, there is a startling resemblance between the two that can be derived from a short paragraph.

When the goblins are introduced, they are described with animalistic qualities. For example, “One had a cat’s face, one whisked a tail, one tramped at a rat’s pace, one crawled like a snail…” (Rossetti, pages 2 and 3) With animalistic qualities come a more sub-human and primeval quality to the description. Rosetti chose these animals wisely; snails and rats are seen as disgusting by humans, and cats are seen as sneaky. When reduced to nothing but an animal, the point that Rossetti tries to make come across more bluntly: the goblins are sneaky, kniving, and have malicious intent. Thus, they are described as these more hideous creatures.

While the animalistic, “subhuman” comparison of the goblins to different animals are expected, the comparison of Laura to an animal is surprising to readers: “Laura stretched her neck like a rush-imbedded swan…” (Rossetti, page 3) At first, it was surprising to me that the passage would compare Laura to an animal. If she is seen as the “original inhabitant” and thus pure creature of her habitat, why is she degraded to an animal? And even though she is described as something so graceful and pure, she is still degraded to nothing more than an animal.

This is because in these few lines, Rossetti is trying to prove that even though goblins are very unequal than humans, they still have the same quality of instinct. In this case, both the goblins and Laura rely on their sexual instincts in order to make decisions. The goblins cry out to Laura hoping to take away her purity, and her curiosity and instinct eventually lead her to comply. Since animals are normally seen as more instinctual than humans (who are seen to rely on thought process and reason), Rossetti can degrade her characters to nothing but animals to get the factual point across.

What I am really trying to say using this passage here is that even though the goblins are seen through a more brutal lens, in reality everyone is an animal no matter their background, and must bend to their instinct at one point.

Sexuality, “The New Woman” and Christina Rossetti

Although all the examples of sexuality in “Goblin Market” are purely ones of metaphor, there is still an extremely prominent theme of sex and female sexuality in the poem. Even though Lizzie stays composed and refrains from the “fruits of the goblins” that come out at night, telling her sister Laura “Their offers should not charm us, their evil gifts would harm us.” Laura is seen as pure, graceful and elegant– how the proper woman during the Victorian Era should be. Laura, on the other hand, while she starts out as pure, ends up becoming very impure and develops an “addiction” to the fruit. Once she is lured into the goblin’s’ market, she began to “suck their fruit globes fair or red, sweeter than honey from the rock… she never tasted such before, how could it cloy with the length of use?… she sucked until her lips were sore… and knew not was it night or day as she turned home alone.” Quite obviously, Laura’s encounter with the goblin’s “fruit” is a metaphor for fellatio and loss of her virginity. From this moment on, there is an obvious divergence between Laura and Lizzie– while Lizzie stays pure, works on her chores, and lives for the day, Laura spends her time pining for the fruits of the goblins, thus craving the night and not getting to her chores at all. While Lizzie yearns for the light (referring to heavenly, good tendencies), Laura yearns for the darkness (referring to sin).

When looking at this poem through the lens of the article “Daughters of Decadence: the New Woman in the Victorian Fin de Siecle”, it can be concluded that Rossetti is against the age of the “new woman”, and hopes for womankind to stick to the strict gender roles established for them. One of the largest factors the “new woman” embraces is her sexuality and need for lust. “Pursuing new sensations” was very important to the “new woman”, and freedom to have sex was one of the sensations women were wanting to enjoy. Rossetti warns in her poem the dangers of premarital sex, declaring that all who do will waste their lives away craving nothing but sex and losing sight in the jobs that women must perform. According to Rossetti, sex (after marriage!) is important, because it is seen at the end that the sisters are married with children (which implies that they have had sex), but ultimately, there is no stronger love and passion than love for a sister rather than a man. This is implied when the two say together “for there is no friend like a sister in calm or stormy weather; to cheer one on the tedious way, to fetch one if one goes astray, to lift if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.”

What I am really trying to say here is that while there were many writers that supported this new Victorian idea of the “new woman”, there were many authors, like Rossetti who condemned it.

Homosocial Relationships When Looking Through a Lens

“I will not bias your mind by suggesting theories or suspicions, Watson… I wish you simply to report facts in the fullest possible manner to me, and you can leave me to do the theorizing.” (pg. 53)

 

The Hounds of the Baskervilles and Lady Audley’s Secret are both starkly different novels. For instance, there is a significantly less amount of women in the previous. However, both novels do have a strikingly similar thing in common: when reading the Hounds of the Baskervilles though a lends of Lady Audley’s Secret, one is able to see a dominant homosocial power exerted in both novels.

In Lady Audley’s Secret, there is a significant homosocial relationsip between George Talboys and Robert Audley. While at a surface’s glance Robert and George seem to be on an equal status, there is evidence throughout the novel that proves that their homosocial relationship is slightly unbalanced. Even though Robert has his own setbacks, he is seen as a parental figure to George, whether it is longing to care for him again or constantly being on the lookout to make sure he is okay.

While there is no sexual power present between Holmes and Watson, there is defenitely a homosocial relationship where Holmes is slightly more autoriative. While both rely on each other heavily, Holmes still tends to be slighltly more condescending towards Watson. Holmes is able to work with Watson as long as Watson does not crack the case himself; that is why Holmes tells Watson to only report the bare facts and nothing else. Earlier in the passage, it mentions that Holmes is almost “parenting” Watson, as if Watson is still learning from Holmes. It is mentioned earlier in the passage that Holmes said this to Watson as some “parental advice”, almost as if Watson is being trained, or “raised” by Holmes.

In conclusion, when looking at Hound of the Baskervilles through the lens of Lady Audley’s Secret, there are some strinking similarities that can be pulled from the two novels.

Lady Audley vs. Helen: Light vs. Dark

“She did not remove her gaze from the darkening countryside, but for some moments was quite silent; then turning to him with a sudden passion in her manner, that lighted up her face with a new and wonderful beauty which the baronet perceived even in the growing twilight, she fell on her knees at his feet.” (Bradon 17)

Though the passage initially just struck me simply as an oxymoron (how can darkness cause so much light?), this passage can be used to further ensure that Lady Audley was previously Helen before she took on her new life. The contrast of light and dark symbolizes her quickly changing thoughts of getting married to Michael. When she looks back on the growing darkness, she is having negative thoughts on getting married. Firstly, if she is Helen and marries Michael, she will be going against the laws of marriage with George. Furthermore, marriage will force her to give up hope that George, the one Lady Audley/Helen truly loves, is somehow alive and will return to her. Afterwords, she realizes the upsides to marriage, and the darkness lights up her face. She will never have to be worried about her past again. She can live openly as wealthy, cheery Lady Audley and leave Helen behind. Her past may seem dark in some ways, but she can take advantage of the darkness and hide in it.

However, even the baronet can see the growing twilight, as mentioned in the penultimate clause of the passage. This may resemble an example of foreshadowing; if Lady Audley shines too brightly, she will have no darkness to shroud her. She may be free of Helen for now but Lady Audley should still proceed with caution.

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