The frontispieces of “Goblin Market” depict women, men, and goblins. Of the two illustrations, the characters depicted are Laura, Lizzie, and the goblins; however, no character in either illustration fulfills a Victorian stereotype of gender. Instead, the drawings (consciously or unconsciously) maintain and perpetuate androgyny and the rhetoric of sexuality present in the poem itself.
The righthand illustration shows Laura cutting off a lock of hair to pay the goblins for their fruit. In the context of the poem, Rossetti implies that Laura pays the goblins in part to enhance or produce the goblins’ own pleasure: the image of Laura “sucking” as well as the goblins’ later determination to make Lizzie “eat” their “fruit” suggests that women eating fruit stands in for giving pleasure of a different kind to the masculinely conceptualized “goblin men.” In some sense, Laura pays the goblins so that they will feel pleasure in her consumption.
The image of Laura cutting her hair reinforces this reading. Laura’s face is sad, almost grieving, as she puts the knife to her hair (symbolizing the loss of her virginity/reputation/maidenhood), but the goblins, depicted as various animals, are leaning in on her in a predatory way. The sexual connotations of the illustration appear in Laura’s exposed neck and hair, the outline of her legs under her skirt, and the clear desire expressed through the animals closing in. However, Laura’s face and body are not drawn as delicate and female; her arms are strong, her neck muscular, and her face distinctly androgynous; were she wearing men’s clothes with her hair cut short, even if her body was in the same position, her attitude and features would depict a male.
The second image, of Laura and Lizzie cuddling while the goblins cavort in a dream-bubble above them, has overtones of heterosexual/romantic love. In the poem, Lizzie calls on Laura to “come and kiss me. . . Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices . . . eat me, drink me, love me, Laura make much of me.” These distinctly sexual, un-sisterly commands are reflected in the image of Laura and Lizzie in bed together. Despite the Victorian valuation of platonic/familial love, given the context of Laura and Lizzie’s relationship in the poem, the illustration of the two girls has overtones of sexuality as well as an unmistakable androgyny. Although the sisters clearly engage in an unconventional semi-sexual relationship with each other (and the goblin men), here the heterosexual norm of a man comforting a woman plays into their depiction. This androgyny could also reflect a male voyeurism of the sisters’ sexual relationship.
Overall, “Goblin Market” and its accompanying illustrations are creepy at best and downright disturbing at most.