This Ain’t One for the Kids

Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market was originally published as a children’s poem. It tells the story of two sisters whose curiosity gets the the best of one of them. “Sweet-tooth Laura” (4) was enticed by the goblin’s “apples and quinces/lemons and oranges,/Plump unpecked cherries,/Melons and raspberries”, and exchanged a lock of her golden hair in order to, literally, taste the forbidden fruit (1). Laura falls dreadfully ill due to tasting the fruit, and it is up to her sister Lizzie to come to her rescue. While the story does have a neatly packaged moral at the end common in most children’s stories, this poem contains multiple sexually explicit descriptions that, upon further examination, make it much less suitable for children.

In the scene where Laura gives way to her temptation and tastes the exotic goblin fruit, one would think that the emphasis would be placed on how the fruit tastes. Instead, the action of Laura sucking the juice out of each fruit is described in great detail: “she sucked and sucked and sucked the more/Fruit which that unknown orchard bore;/She sucked until her lips were sore”(4). Perhaps my reading of this is tainted from my 21st century reading, but this description seems extremely sexually charged. If one accepts this description as sexual, the moral at the end of the story becomes even more disturbing. When looked at as the story of a woman who follows her sexual desires, the consequences she faces are rather drastic. After eating the fruit, the narrator implies that she had possibly “gone deaf and blind” and that “her tree of life drooped from the root”(8). The fact that she is a woman following her sexual impulses and is severally punished for doing so perpetuates the Victorian ideals and norms regarding female sexuality: that it should be be acknowledged or acted upon. Similarly, the idea that this poem was something that was made for children reiterates how early these sexual stereotypes were ingrained in Victorian youth, even if they were unaware of the poem’s sexual innuendos. The poem’s ending moral can have many different interpretations, but one of them is undeniably this: women should not follow their desires, or there will be dire consequences.

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