Christine Rossetti's Goblin Market is transgressive in its portrayal of female sexuality. Discuss with detailed reference to the poem.

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‘Goblin Market’ is transgressive in it’s portrayal of female sexuality. Discuss with detailed reference to the poem.

Goblin Market is a Narrative poem first published in 1862 written by Christina Rossetti. It is about two sisters, one of whom gets sick after eating poisonous goblin fruit, and is healed because of her sister's bravery. Rossetti claimed in a letter to her publisher that this poem was not meant for children, however she said in public that it was in fact a children’s story.  

“Goblin Market has always been an ambiguous text with a diffuse audience, but-modern marketing techniques have identified two distinct readers-child and adult-and produced different meaning for each.” (Kooistra, Lorraine, 1994: 249)

On one hand there is a child’s tale about a girl being brave for her sister and that there are no better friends than sisters, about evil goblins and how you should exercise will power and not give in to temptation.  On the other hand the poem features a large amount of sexual imagery and it’s complex and sexually suggestive language has caused it to not be seen as a children’s poem but instead as an exploration of female sexuality, an allusion to capitalism and victorian economy and a religious metaphor for temptation and redemption. The poem seems to explore Rossetti’s feminist and homosexual politics. This essay will be aiming to explore female sexuality and whether Rossetti has been transgressive in it’s portrayal.

There are a number of approaches that can be taken to this text as Sean Grass states,

A cursory  glance at the introduction to virtually any critical essay on "Goblin Market"provides a healthy catalog of the disparate readings of the poem: as commentary on the capitalist market- place; as tale of sexual, sometimes homoerotic yearning;as feminist glorification of sisterhood; and perhaps most often as Christian allegory of temptation and redemption,"inescapably a Genesis story." (Grass, Sean C,1994: 356)

Many people have tried to interpret the themes of the poem by going to the root of the text and looking at the life of the author. Christina Rossetti was involved in a number of love affairs which could have contributed to the text in a large way due to their sexual and erotic nature, she could have channeled some of her own sexuality into the poem. It could be argued that this is a factor in how transgressive the portrayal of sexuality is in the poem, if it was her own sexuality Rossetti would naturally make it a strong presence in her own poem.

Rossetti worked with the Oxford Movement’s ‘women’s mission to women’, an organization which set out to help rehabilitate prostitutes by teaching them skills other than selling their bodies such as cleaning and housekeeping. Her involvement with this group would’ve meant that she saw firsthand the Victorian era ‘fallen woman’ who is portrayed as mischievous and evil and who is shunned by society. Rossetti clearly did not see them as such if she was helping them get back on their feet, she saw that these were not the characters that society made them out to be, treating them with sympathy. Her time with this group likely would have affected the poem, maybe it was even one of the purposes for the poem as she would likely have read it to the ex-prostitutes to teach them about temptation and desire. Here were to most sexual women of the time. If anyone was transgressive about their sexuality it would be ex-prostitutes and their company likely influenced Christina’s poem.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina’s brother, was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. They were a group of painters, poets and artistic critics who believed that art had gone downhill since the time of the italian painter Raphael. They insisted that visual art and poetry return to the intense colours and detail which was standard of early italian renaissance artists. This style can be seen in Goblin Market through the vivid and detailed descriptions,

“Apples and quinces,Lemons and oranges,Plump unpecked cherries-Melons and raspberries,Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,Swart-headed mulberries,Wild free-born cranberries,Crab-apples, dewberries,Pine-apples, blackberries,Apricots, strawberries--All ripe together”

This extract shows just how much of a ...

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