In Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, we are presented with two beautiful and kind sisters, Laura and Lizzie. It is while Laura and Lizzie are tarrying away in the glen, that they hear the seductive and nearly irresistible cries of the strange and fearsome goblin men. Lizzie warns her sister about them, claiming that she and Laura “should not peep at goblin men” because “their evil gifts would harm us” (Rossetti, 2). However, despite her sister’s vehement warning, Laura decides to throw caution to the wind and takes a curious glance at the merchant goblin men who come bearing delicious and tempting-looking fruit. With this one stolen glance, she instantly becomes enamored by them and allows them to come near her, showering her with their ripe and juicy pieces of sweet, forbidden fruit. Laura is said to have sucked on the fruit “until her lips were sore” and she “knew not was it night or day” (Rossetti, 4).
After this encounter, Lizzie slowly sees changes in her sister. Gone is the maiden who was happy and fulfilled, pure and kind, and in her place is a tired and graying husk of a woman who no longer seems to have any will to live. This is due to the fact that Laura can no longer hear the cries of the goblin men or get a taste of the succulent fruit that they carry with them. It’s clear that Laura is suffering from a crippling addiction and she is “longing for the night” when she can see them and once again sink her teeth into the most coveted of fruits (Rossetti, 6). Knowing that her sister will wither away and die if she doesn’t do something, Lizzie goes in search of the goblins, hoping to secure an antidote for her. She sets aside her concerns for her own safety and simply focuses on what she must do to save the soul of her beloved sister.
When Lizzie eventually comes across the goblin men and tells them of her intentions to buy their fruit, they are at first very much excited and want her to have it. However, when they realize that she refuses to consume the fruit herself, they become angry and physically assault her. It is said that they “Held her hands and squeezed their fruits / Against her mouth to make her eat” (Rossetti, 12). With her every refusal, the goblins become angrier and angrier, worsening her punishment by landing harsher blows and spewing more malicious mockery. Finally, after an interminable amount of time, they recognize that she will not bend her will to meet their demands. So, they abandon her in the glen and she is left with a bruised and battered body, their juices dripping and staining her previously untouched skin. Instead of allowing herself to be overwhelmed by this horrible violation, Lizzie races home and is able to save Laura’s life, proving that those with loving and courageous hearts can overcome all sources of evil.
Throughout the text, the goblin men were said to be animal-like, almost as if they had not fully evolved. For instance, they were described as being both “cat-like and rat-like” and they had tails that they used to harm their victims (Rossetti, 10). They were also distinctly different from typical British men and essentially belonged to an entirely different species. I believe that they were portrayed as these primitive, ruthless creatures because they represented an unknown, foreign entity.
During the Victorian Era, there was a strong desire to see the British Empire succeed and expand. Many British citizens felt that if foreigners came to England and shared their cultural beliefs and ideas with the general population, great harm would befall the country. This was because the Victorian Era was also known as the Age of Empire, and many British people felt that their way of life was superior to those living in other countries and cultures.
There was also this notion that if foreigners came and infiltrated England, they would taint pure British bloodlines by having children with the good women of British society. They would use their charm and means of seduction to take advantage of sweet, innocent girls, with the intention of tossing them aside at their earliest convenience. I think that it was because of this fear of the foreign that we see the goblin men being described as barbaric, wicked things that will lure in pure women and sully them with their archaic and evil ways.
4 thoughts on “Forbidden Fruit: The Sweetest of Them All”
The fear of the unknown is a central notion of Victorian anxiety, and certainly applies both to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll is famous for his experimentation with the forbidden, and these pursuits have made him a sort of exile in the scientific community. Dr. Lanyon himself disregards the work as “unscientific” and dissociates himself from his colleague. This exemplifies a distinctly Victorian anxiety about the unknown infiltrating their “superior” British culture. Once Jekyll reaches for this so called “forbidden fruit,” he is reaches also for the possibility of disrupting the propriety of the age.
Much like Rosetti’s goblin men, Mr. Hyde is diminutive but capable of sudden and surprisingly ferocious acts of violence. Both of these fiends share short statures and uncanny looks and movements: the goblins with their animal-like faces and means of locomotion and Hyde with his ever-shifting face and unusual walk. Similarly, both rapidly change from unsightly but unassuming strangers to violent predators. This common physiognomy and modus operandi could represent Victorian anxieties about the foreigners not as unknowable aliens, but as assimilated immigrants waiting for opportunities to commit secret crimes against the innocent shown as young women and the nobility.
The description of the goblin men in this post reminds me of Mr. Utterson’s description of Mr. Hyde. The notion of an entirely different species is nearly identical to Mr. Utterson mentioning, “…the man seems hardly human!” (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 10). Mr. Hyde was disliked by all, and I think that although his features may have been slightly more human than the goblins, they both represent the unknown and foreign as mentioned in the blog post. Society has evolved standards as to what is and is not accepted, and individuals with physical deformities draw attention far more frequently than those who fit into what is “normal”.
I find your analysis excellent and I think that it can be easily connected to Stevenson’s “Jekyll and Hyde”. When Lizzie and Laura visited the Goblin market, they can hear the goblins screaming and convincing them to try their fruit. Laura is not able to resist the voices and finally gives in, which changes her personality drastically. Consequently, her conscience tore her apart in a way that did not end well for Laura. Dr. Jekyll, was torn apart, too, by the two different poles in his head. One of them was good and the other was evil. This bipolar discrepancy in his head led to him making the potion to divide the two poles and make them into two personas. The difference between Laura and Jekyll is that he has the skills to break the up the good and the bad parts cleanly, and therefore separate them, while Laura had to give in to one side, which was the evil one.
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