Things are Getting Hairy in “Goblin Market”

In this post I would like to address the vivid descriptions and usages of hair in Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti. I contend that hair is used in this piece as a symbol of sexual consent and female sexuality, and that Laura’s giving away of her hair is reinforcing gender norms and a form of self-subordination. I would also like to discuss the sexualization of blonde women in particular, not only as a Victorian trend, but in general.

The obsession with hair in the Victorian era is not only evident in Dante Rosetti’s many paintings that we viewed in class, but can also be found in the abundance of hair jewelry (mostly mourning jewelry) Victorians were so fond of. Laura and Lizzie in the poem are described as being blonde “Golden head by golden head” (6). In order to purchase the goblins’ fruits (aka to partake in their sexual orgy essentially) she had to ” “Buy from us with a golden curl” ” (4). Elisabeth Gitter points out in her book The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination that in primitive societies giving up a lock of one’s hair or shaving it was a customary practice brides were forced to undertake, linking this practice inherently with sex or virginity loss (Gitter 938). By giving the goblins her hair to purchase their fruit or partake in the sexual deviancy, she is tricked into giving away her sexual purity as well as simply subordinating herself to the male goblins by giving her intrinsic treasure or currency that is her rare, beautiful hair. This physical selling of the self to men of a different race or breed also reinforces Victorian gender roles not only of men as predators/ “more dominant” but also of women being easily tricked into giving into sexual desires (even to men of a lower class or minority race) which can have major consequences on their class status or reputation, or in Laura’s case, her health (possibly a moral suggestion that being this easily persuaded, giving up oneself in the premarital circumstance may lead to venereal disease).

It is also important to note that in the Victorian era it was typical for women to have long flowing hair as it was a symbol of youth, fertility, and beauty. Women’s hair was usually only cut in times when the woman was ill or committed to a mental asylum or prison. While this was done for ‘cleanliness’ cutting a woman’s hair was also the quickest way to take away a woman’s confidence, making her docile and compliant to the prison or asylum’s discipline. In this way Laura was docile and compliant to the goblins, unable to let them go even after they left her presence, she was constantly thirsting for their fruits and under their persuasion.

I find it additionally interesting that both women are blonde. The fiery red or blonde hair is a common trope throughout Victorian literature. Gitter also cites Medusa, Philomena, and Saint Agnes as literary figures that have been depicted with golden hair, in their cases the unique hair acts as a “prosthetic tongue” to their inner persona, displaying how unique, rare, and valuable they are as women not only in physical beauty but in their intrinsic worth (Gitter 939). I found this reading interesting and important when speaking about Laura in that “Her hair grew thin and grey” (8) after she had given herself up to the goblins. This suggests that by giving consent to the taking of her sexual purity by relinquishing her hair she has lost not only her physical appeal but even her intrinsic worth in that her beautiful hair can no longer speak to the good of her character’s well-being. In this way the text suggests that by giving up your virginity either/and before marriage or to a lower class/minority race, a woman is not only physically devaluing herself but giving up her moral/spiritual worth as a person.

Blonde bombshells still thrive past the Victorian era as well which is certainly an area for further research and how blonde-ness seems to tie in with overt sexuality over time (for example, sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe) and how many women seek to be blonde in order to channel this because “blondes have more fun”. (Just an interesting side note I have no direct thoughts nor more words to get into this, but it could be suggesting that both Laura and Lizzie were already either overtly sexual women or that they were simply extremely attractive in a sexually pleasing way)

3 thoughts on “Things are Getting Hairy in “Goblin Market””

  1. This reminded me of the double standards we found in the “Why Are Women Redundant” essay we read at the beginning of the year, where men often visited prostitutes and their reputations went untarnished, but any woman who even appeared provocative could be deemed a prostitute and therefore “fallen” from grace. There is an interesting emphasis on women holding onto the morality of society, whereas men are almost expected to stray. In “Goblin Market,” the tempting figures are made Other, therefore taking away any responsibility from English men in “corrupting” women by introducing them to sexuality outside of marriage. The women have all the responsibility to resist temptation, but the men have none of the blame for offering it in the first place.

  2. Woah, I found your post super interesting and it could directly tie into my close reading of the sexual assault scene in the Goblin Market. I too discussed Lizzie’s golden head but in a different way that fits along nicely with your sentiments. Instead of seeing it as blonde, I saw the word “golden” as a measure of value, standard, and wealth. It also could mean that it is something to be attained, treasured, or protected. But with the cutting of said hair directly symbolized deflowering or the degrading of the woman’s standard. Her golden head becomes tarnished. I agree with you that long flowing hair is an iconic symbol of women’s beauty but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that it’s also a symbol of power. Laura, naively loses her power through temptation by giving her hair to the goblins, and is thus tarnished with sexual deviancy. She then becomes consumed with all things goblins, and is unable to direct her attention anywhere else. She exists in this liminal space with no agency or power. I think we should look more into the power of women’s body parts.

  3. Reading your post reminded me of the Horatio Nelson exhibit we saw at the National Maritime Museum in London. Before he died in the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson cut a lock of his hair to give to his mistress Emma Hamilton. I remember thinking something along the lines of “why would anyone ever want to receive a lock of their loved ones’ hair after they died?” They even had the original lock of hair in the exhibit–it was so creepy! But, it’s interesting to note that hair jewelry wasn’t exclusively for women or for men.

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