Laura’s Longing

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.

5 thoughts on “Laura’s Longing”

  1. I like the phrase “It is oftentimes easier to say that when a woman chooses her independence, she will ultimately be fulfilled without caveats.” This could explain why Lady Audley acts the way she does, she is forced into the role of the subservient housewife by society, while she is a villain her evil is more nuanced. While we might be inclined to think Lady Audley is completely crazy perhaps all she did was make the choice between living independently or living at the whim of a man she did not love.

  2. This was a really interesting take on what Christina Rossetti was intending to portray in her poems. It could definately be suggested that Rossetti’s poems could show her frustration with wanting a partner, but also wanting to be treated fairly. In her poem, “No, Thank You, John.” Rossetti rejects a man, because she would rather say no and be lonely then to end up with him. She is looking for someone who will treat her well, but since it was the 1800’s, that was very unlikely to happen. This further connects with your point that “Laura cannot enjoy the company of a man and live as herself at the same time,” in this comparison, Rossetti would be Laura.

  3. I like that you point out the danger of wanting especially the importance of differentiating what desire means for women vs men which we see in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The women of the Goblin Market don’t have the same privilege that Dr. Jekyll had since he was at a position to conceal himself and fall back on his high status in society. I also think the Goblin Market is especially interesting since it deals with multiple levels of desire. The girls are curious, desiring knowledge, freedom and possibly each other which makes their passionate story so different than that of Jekyll and Hyde even though both texts struggle with wanting.

  4. I think viewing this poem as a commentary on female agency is very valid. Laura ultimately gives into eating the goblin fruit and is met with great consequences. I think beyond that this poem is meant to condemn desire. The goblin men represent all things evil, yet Laura still gravitates toward the fruit. She gives into desire against her better judgment and is met with hellish repercussions.

  5. I really like the perspective of this post. When you said “By taking the fruit, she makes the transaction of her livelihood for pleasure; we learn that in this metaphor, the two cannot coexist,” I found really interesting. Comparing the purchasing of the goblin fruits to a sexual encounter and a negative one at that, was what I think Rosetti’s ultimate goal in portraying. When you say “it is often thought that Rossetti aims to depict the dangers of men’s implicit violence in sexual encounters,” I agree very much so. In Laura’s case, she falls victim to this implicit violence.

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