Ecofeminism in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

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Date: Fall 2014
Publisher: Ohio State University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,575 words

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Since its publication in 1862, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" has sparked intense curiosity among critics. Although Rossetti's editor-brother, Michael Rossetti, claimed she disavowed complex literary or ideological motives for the poem, scholars have generated diverse interpretations of this highly evocative "children's" tale about girls and goblins. As a Victorian woman writer who was aware of her culture's social and literary expectations of women, Rossetti likely preferred to avoid notoriety that might call into question her feminine propriety. For example, the question of female desire or appetite is a central feature of the poem; and, as C. C. Barfoot argues, such "craving to give and to take, would seem improper when expressed so blatantly by a woman" (146). In her overview of the reception history of Rossetti's poetry, Alison Chapman notes that "The sentimental tradition, seen in the nineteenth-century as the only properly feminine mode for women poets, insists that women's poetry is confessional and personal" (6). In this context, one would be surprised if Rossetti was not being coy regarding the authorial intentions behind "Goblin Market," which contains a richly evocative interplay of biblical, mercantile, and sexual themes. One of the poem's most intriguing aspects is the way in which Rossetti combines these elements in her portrayal of a pervasive bond between nature and the feminine soul.

"Goblin Market" is a highly effective early example of ecofeminist literature, one that raises critical and still-relevant questions about the co-inherent roles of women and the environment in a precarious industrialized world. This becomes more clear when the dominant thematic foci of scholarly discourse on the poem--the religious, economic, and reproductive allusions--are examined in terms of their environmental implications. Rossetti saturates "Goblin Market" with ecological imagery, demonstrating a love of nature that is characteristic of her poetry generally and of her personal ethics as an anti-vivisection activist and animal lover. This bond is mirrored in her portrayal of protagonists Lizzie and Laura and reflects the poem's importance as an ecofeminist work. While out in the wilderness of the "haunted glen" (1. 552), the two sisters encounter "goblin men" who tempt them to "'come buy'" (11. 42, 4) their divers tantalizing fruits. Lizzie resists, whereas Laura succumbs, buying the fruit with a lock of her own hair and soon sickening with insatiable hunger for more. Lizzie searches out the goblins and endures their assault-by-ffuit to bring her sister the juices as an antidote to save her life. The sisters are thus restored to an almost pre-lapsarian harmony with each other and with the earth, as signaled by spring's renewal: the "first birds," "dew-wet grass," "morning winds," and "new buds" (11. 530, 533, 534, 535) greet Laura when she awakens from her life-and-death struggle and embraces Lizzie. An examination of the poem through a biblical lens enhances such prevalent religious themes as temptation and women's spiritual roles: "Rossetti always depicts things of this world as meaningful only in their relationship to the higher reality that gives them significance" (Arseneau 91). Yet through its depiction of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A392368500