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Research: Canada
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Critic to: Goblin Market (Christina Rossetti)

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Literature: Critic
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By: Yalda Mahmoudi, March 29th, 2005
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Goblin Market
One of the few great women poets of the nineteenth century, Christina Rossetti has up to the present time continued to be a vague and enigmatic figure. The sense of mystery covering her is partly due to her own reserve and partly to the fact that there is no accurate and well-written bibliography of her. She has come down to us interpreted solely by her brother and editor, William Michael Rossetti, whose views have been accepted uncritically by all Christina’s biographers. Most of Rossetti’s work has been treated with an extraordinary recognition. Like most of the other great Victorian fantasies, Goblin Market has been variously interpreted; critics have dwelt specially on its erotic and its Christian elements. Goblin Market combines a very deliberately simple surface with complex suggestions. It has many levels of meaning. At the narrative level it offers a charming and delicate fairy tale to delight a child, if a somewhat precocious one. At the symbolic and allegorical level, it conveys certain Christian ethical assumptions. At the psychological level, it suggests emotional experience universally convincing. 
Despite the fact that William remembered that he had often heard Christina say she did not mean anything profound by this fairy tale and it was not to be taken as moral apologue, he himself encouraged an interpretation at a deeper level than that of a fairy tale fantasy. Although modern critics have been inclined to drop the whole matter of meaning and to regard the poem as a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, which combines a realistic use of detail with the vague symbolism. But, once Goblin Market is read as the complex, rich and meaningful work it actually is, the common critical view that the poem has the bright, clear, obvious pigmentation and the lightly woven surface texture of a Pre-Raphaelite painting will no longer be conceivable. An analysis of the poem in the light of the emotional facts in Christina’s life will reveal that the symbolism, vague and suggestive as it may appear, actually has the same underlying contact with reality. 
The story is simple. Two lonely sisters are tempted by the little goblin merchants, who haunt the glens and woods and toward evening allure unwary maidens with fruit, rich, glowing, delicious to the taste. Lizzie resists; Laura succumbs to temptation. Once the victim has tasted the fruit, she is tormented by a wild craving for a second taste, but this the goblin merchants never grant. Fearing for Laura’s life. Lizzie resists the seductions of the goblins, exposing herself to their tempting wares, so that she may secure the “fiery antidote” to save her sister’s life. The antidote is the fruit itself. The goblin taunt, teases, and torments Lizzie, but she stands firm amidst the turmoil. At length she triumphs, and with the rich juices smeared over her face, she runs home to let Laura kiss and suck them off her cheeks and chin. A second taste gratifies Laura’s longing. She is saved and the poem concludes with the well-known tribute to a sister. 
“Temptation, in both its human and its theological sense, is the thematic core of Goblin Market.” (Clifton Snider) Goblin Market celebrates by condemning sensuous passion. The main subject of the poem was the problem of temptation. In the poem the temptation is symbolized by the fruit, the great traditional symbol of sin and temptation in the Bible. Clearly the fruit sold by the goblin merchants, those “bloom-down-cheeked peaches,” the “rare pears,” and “bright fire-like barberries,” the iced melons, and the sun-ripened citrons from south, of which the taste brings decay and death, are forbidden fruit scriptures. They belong to the order of fruit, which tempted Eve. Although in Goblin Market the powerful lure of love is primarily represented by the traditional symbol of fruit, it is also symbolized by the goblin men of foreign fairy lore, the elves and dwarfs. What distinguished Christina’s little men from the conventional figure of the dwarf is their partial resemblance to animals:
One had a cat’s face
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry. 

These small animals are portrayed in such sinister guise and the agents of evil and are the vendors of temptation. The joys of the earthly paradise must be renounced if one is to achieve spiritual redemption. The lusciousness of the forbidden fruit and the charm of the little animal-faced goblins are but different aspects of nature, the core of which is sexual passion.
When the poem begins the sisters are exposed at dust to the cries of the goblins. Hearing them, Lizzie “veiled her blushed.” The two sisters crouch close together “with tingling cheeks and finger tips.” Obviously these girls understand the call; their antennae feel love in the air. So certain is it what the goblins mean that; “ Lizzie covered up her eyes, covered close lest they should look,” they are keeping guard. Laura, however, takes a desirous peep at the goblin men and their “evil gifts.” Ready and eager to love, she stretches out her gleaming neck, looks, and listens, she attracts her own temptation. And then as the goblin merchants, sniffing a victim, turn and troop “backwards up the mossy mean glen,” Laura assists in her own undoing. She does this primarily by means of her imagination. Perceiving that Laura, through the instrumentality of her imagination. Is ready for love, one of the little men “began to weave a crown,” another offered “the golden weight/ of dish and fruit…” an obvious invitation to the feast. Although the crown symbol appears only once, the familiar feast symbol, as might be expected runs throughout the poem. The sensuous joys of love, for which Laura pays with the products of her own body, curl and a tear are described as a lustful feasting on the fruit, lines 128 to 137. But satiety does not come with repletion. After the feasting, Laura complains to Lizzie that, “ I ate and ate my fill,” “Yet my mouth waters still,” a common lover’s complaint. 
After Laura’s fall, Lizzie is invited by the goblins to “sit down and feast with us,” clearly an inducement to erotic pleasure. Later, she is told by them that “our feast is but beginning.” After Lizzie has risked her own peace of mind to bring Laura the antidote, its first effect is to make Laura “loathe the feast.” That there maybe no doubt about what the symbolic fruit is intended to present, Christina describes its effect upon another girl victim. 
She thought of Jeanie in her grave, 
Who should have been a bride; 
But who for joys brides hope to have 
Fell sick and died 
In this stanza, again the distinction we have already observed is drawn between the two sorts of love, that which domestic and legitimate, and the other, the outlawed love. “Their fruits like honey to the throat,” “but poison in the blood.” Now we begin to understand why, for Laura, the fulfillment of love is followed by the passionate and rebellious anguish from frustrated love. Denied sight and sound of the goblins, perishing for another taste of their deadly fruit, Laura pines and sickens. She suffers from the deprivation of love, Laura
Then sat up in a passionate yearning, 
And gnash'd her teeth for baulk'd desire, and wept 
As if her heart would break. 

Laura’s extreme torment of repentance, brought on by the antidote which, ironically, is no more than love itself, at last reaches its height and becomes unbearable and results in her loss of consciousness. Lizzie, a human angel, watches by Laura’s bedside during her death-defying crisis of soul. This is the point, where we see love as both destroyer and redeemer, this concept is well represented in Goblin Market. And human rather than divine love becomes the agent of redemption. Lizzie’s invitation to Laura to “Eat me, drink me, love me” and despite its bizarre features, Lizzie’s act is nonetheless a sacrifice. Her love brings Laura back from spiritual death, and in her contact with the goblins she hazards the kind of human suffering that results from an insatiable craving of the unsatisfied appetite, Laura’s own suffering. Lizzie, white and golden, stands firmly in the midst of the goblin’s cruel attack, 
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire

So we are left with a woman performed a heroic, sacrificing herself to save her sister. The constructed framework of the feminine heroism remains passive. Lizzie does not demand the goblin men to give her, the antidote of their fruit; she does not attack them when they attach her. But she is forced to offer herself up to goblin men and their abuse, to help her sister (Philips). By the end of Goblin Market both sisters, are happily married with children of their own, to whom the retell the old tale. By such traditionally “happy” ending Christina seems to be implying that neither the fruit nor the animals are in themselves harmful, although in the poem one is the object and the other the cause of temptation. Implying in short that man is his own destroyer. It would be an inaccuracy to identity Christina herself with either Laura or Lizzie. Even though the reader might sense that she uses both her heroines to express her own attitude toward the moral question she rises in the poem. If at times we are inclined to read into Lizzie Christina’s own integrity and firmness of character, we should remember that Lizzie has been identified with Maria Rossetti. Christina even dedicated the poem to her sister, and she concluded the poem with the significant tribute, 

"For there is no friend like a sister 
In calm or stormy weather; 
To cheer one on the tedious way, 
To fetch one if one goes astray, 
To lift one if one totters down, 
To strengthen whilst one stands." 

Rossetti implies that members of one’s family are the true saviors; they are the ones that one should rely on if help were needed. Dedicating the poem to her own sister is a fine proof of Rossetti’s need to express how important she feels a roll of woman is, this also is a distinct characteristics of PreRaphaelite writers. Laura was Lizzie’s true savior, she was not only strong towards goblin men and their temptation, but also had the strength to help and nurture her sister back to health. This poem can be interpreted in few ways, but the most evident I think is the sisterly devotion. One sister risks her own life for the sake of the other, and it is through this selfless act that one sister is able to live long enough to tell her own tale to her kids.

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Research: Critic, Speech, Novel

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