Men Sell Not Such In Any Town: A Complication Of The Common Interpretation Of Goblin Market

In class and throughout people’s blog posts, it is clear the consensus on Goblin Market is that it is a paean to sisterhood and a rebuke of the sexual predations of men. That is certainly true to some extent, especially the first part, as the last six lines are a literal evocation of the power of sisterhood. However, the poem’s approach to men is more complicated than just a rebuke.

First, look at this section of the last stanza of the poem, where we meet up with the sisters years after Laura is saved: “Afterwards when both were wives/with children of their own;” (Rosetti pg. 15). Goblin market ends on the idea of it’s two leads happily married to unnamed husbands and with children, a reversion to the norm that does not exactly match with the evocation to sisterhood at the very end. Perhaps there is something in the fact that the husbands are unnamed and irrelevant, instead of dominant, in their relationships to their wives as presented to the readers. Or this is an unwanted conceding to her publisher brother, perhaps, but I feel uncomfortable making such claims without any direct evidence. For whatever reason, the best outcome Rosetti can conjure is one where a woman falls into the demands of the patriachy, but finds that it is really barely a hassle. Whatever the goblin men represent in the poem, it is an individual issue rather than structural one.

Looking elsewhere in the poem, this limitation of the representational quality of the goblin men is present in more places. Twice in the poem, both around the middle of the fourth stanza and the middle of the last stanza is this line, always said after mentioning the fruit the goblins sell: “(Men sell not such in any town)” (Rossetti pg. 3/pg. 16). This line highlights the exotic and strange nature of the fruits by comparing to the safe, normal, british, fruit sold in towns. ‘Town’ is especially important word choice here, emphasizing the idea of civilized order through towns and cities, and contrasting this to the wild forests the goblin market meets at. But of course, it is not just the fruit that is being divided into civilized and uncivilized: it is the men who sell it as well. The men in town sell reasonable fruit for reasonable prices (and one must imagine these civilized town men are the kind that Lizzie and Lucy end up marrying). But it is the strange goblin men who are declared uncivilized and sexually dangerous that are the threat sisterhood must  combat.

Goblin Market is certainly preoccupied with the threat of men. But with this evidence in mind, the threat specifically comes from men who do not come from ‘here’.

2 thoughts on “Men Sell Not Such In Any Town: A Complication Of The Common Interpretation Of Goblin Market”

  1. I completely agree that the rebuke of men in Goblin Market is specifically a stand in for fear of the foreign or uncivilized men. The goblin men are not from “any town” and moreover they follow strange rules and offer odd bargains which don’t fit into the norms of society– like when they asked for Laura for the gold of her hair in place of coin: taking her purity and maliciously ridding her of the wholeness of her body.

    This sort of persistent malice and strangness which falls outside of the bounds of proper Victorian society is also found in Mr. Hyde. It seems like there should be no similarity, as one is designed as a folk tale with some form of magic, while the other is firmly within the bounds science. But again and again we are given descriptions of Hyde as unrecognizable but with “a strong feeling of deformity.” He is rude and strange, so he must be deformed: he is deformed so he must thus be inhuman. The goblin men themselves are attributed to be men but they are assigned bestial features, emphasizing their otherness as well.

  2. Dear Death,

    While you have not explicitly used the word anti-Semitic I am sure that you have been able to make the connection between the little goblin men who crave gold and the racist depictions of Jewish people.

    I tentatively agree with my fellow horseman in the comments, but I feel as if a reading of the Goblin Men as “out of society,” while good, is incomplete.

    Death I wish you had taken your pale horse a couple of strides further and explicitly called out the xenophobic and anti-Semitic dehumanization that takes place in this novel and the problematic nature of pushing down minority groups to empower women. The lack of intersectionality is disturbing and something that I wish you had addressed rather than dancing around that idea by saying that “the threat specifically comes from men who do not come from ‘here’.”

    Additionally, lines that you almost need to include when talking about the othering and dehumanization is the description of the men.
    “One had a cat’s face,
    One whisk’d a tail,
    One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
    One crawl’d like a snail,
    One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
    One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.”

    This is all to say that I wish you would’ve committed to calling out Rossetti on her racism rather than dancing around the issue and I hope that in the future you don’t worry as much about your point being received poorly as the hesitation I read in your post holds it back from being anything more than “good”.

    Yours until the final ride,
    Carmine “Red” Zingiber

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