Longing kills. Christina Rossetti is not the first author to breach female loneliness in her works, and she is far from the last, but there is something to be said about the angle from which she approaches the experience. It is oftentimes easier to say that when a woman chooses her independence, she will ultimately be fulfilled without caveats. After all, everyone enjoys a happy ending to a powerful narrative. Rossetti instead lives in the what ifs: what if we are not truly satisfied, what if happiness is not infallible, what if we always want what we cannot have? Her poem “Goblin Market” explores the consequences of the necessary choice women must make between freedom and love, and illustrates a greater collective struggle within oppressed women to choose between independence and companionship at their personal loss.
“Goblin Market”’s central conflict revolves around the potential consequences of consuming the goblin men’s fruit. When reading the poem through the lens of sexuality, it is often thought that Rossetti aims to depict the dangers of men’s implicit violence in sexual encounters. The goblin men pressure Laura into giving up what she does not wish to lose, leaving her alone to yearn further for their fruits. This narrative doubly portrays the choice women are made to make: Laura cannot enjoy the company of a man and live as herself at the same time. By taking the fruit, she makes the transaction of her livelihood for pleasure; we learn that in this metaphor, the two cannot coexist. When Laura goes to bed for the evening, she “[sits] up in a passionate yearning, / And [gnashes] her teeth for baulk’d desire, and [weeps] / As if her heart would break” (stanza 13). “Yearning” and “desire” are both very loaded words typically associated with the romantic and even carnal. Laura wants. And this very wanting is her downfall. Through the language Rossetti employs, she is able to emphasize the lack of agency women are given to have both love and their own lives.