Comparing Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market with Michael Fields’ The Faun’s Punishment with each other through a lens of “sexuality” and “gender” raises interesting questions.
In Goblin Market, the young girl Lizzie is abused by a group of goblins that want to force her to eat the forbidden fruit. It becomes clear that this scene can be read as sexual abuse when the goblins torment her as she disagrees to open her lips. The goblins would keep trying to “cram a mouthful in”. Through the lens of sexuality, this could mean that the goblins want to force her to practice oral sex. However, Lizzie remains resistant and in the end, the fruit’s juices are all over her body. Lizzie describes the fruit juices as “goblin pulp” and “goblin dew” which could be an analogy for semen. This scene can be read as (attempted) gang rape and Lizzie trying to resist it.
In The Faun’s Punishment a group of maenads, abuse a faun because he was looking at them. The poem alludes to a painting from 1531. In the picture, we can see naked women sitting around a naked man, tearing on his skin, blowing a reed into his ear, preying on his helplessness. While this poem (and the picture) does not seem to be about rape, it does show signs of sexuality and violence. The nudity combined with images such as the woman playing the flute is very suggestive.
What is striking, is that the action seems very similar but it is performed on people of opposite genders. In Goblin Market the victim is a young girl and the goblins do not have a gender (or seem rather masculine), The Faun’s Punishment has a male victim and female abusers. Therefore, both of the poems mirror each other from a gender perspective. However, what both of the poems have in common is that the women are portrayed as mad, either in the position of the victim, or as the people driving men crazy. In Fields’ poem, they are “maenads”, which is a term that directly translates into “madwoman”. Maenads are known for their animalistic and sexual behavior. Laura, in Goblin Market is the first victim of the goblins’ abuse and she gives in to their form of seduction. As a consequence, she falls into a depressive state. Depression, in the Victorian Era, might have been seen as “hysteria” or “madness” as well as the opposite behavior of the maenads. Thus, according to the poems, the consequence of sexual activity, either as the product of abuse or as the active part, is always a mad woman.