The Victorian era of England was best known for a number of milestones, most of all its substantial contribution to literature. Of the many writers identified with the period, the references made to the work of Christina Georgina Rossetti, a London native, are undoubtedly well-deserved. Much of her work generally remained within the space of children’s poetry, and at times delving into the specific contexts of religion and romance. But one of the most accomplished of Rossetti’s writing is the long narrative poem entitled “Goblin Market”, which told of particular issues that plagued the society of her time.
Though Rossetti was known to negate scholarly assumptions of the poem and instead proclaimed it as a simple poetic tale meant for a younger audience, the thematic values of “Goblin Market” continue to resonate with the readers that appear to be the subjects of her lines—the women. Specifically, the text centers on the societal view of women as object, operating primarily along the lines of patriarchy. Rossetti’s past was not exactly idyllic, mostly marked by financial problems and deprivation.
Thus the young poet was forced to continue her education within the confines of home, with the only other medium of activity being the family’s participation in the activities of the Church of England. With the added significance of her sister’s joining the Anglican order as a nun, Rossetti became more and more critical of what appeared to be negative values such as pride, jealousy, and nudity in the art and literary works that once influenced her own. At this time, the writer decided on making religion and faith the center of her poetic message.
1862’s Goblin Market and Other Poems, Rossetti’s iconic poetry collection, contained the cryptic “Goblin Market”; though the whole set communicated complex and controversial themes ranging from feminism to seduction and was hailed by critics as the poet’s best yet, Rosetti herself stayed away from the ideological and political issues that her work seemed to echo. More than anything, Rosetti firmly declared her opinions against slavery, prostitution, and war—constructs that fit thematically within her religious beliefs (Marsh 152).
The rest of Rossetti’s career saw a focus on religious literature and poetry for children, as seen in “In the Bleak Midwinter”—a Christmas-themed poem that further enhanced her stand on religion and faith. In the late 1800s, Christina Rossetti fell ill of Graves Disease, which fatally claimed her in 1894 (Everett pars. 1-5). II. Background of “Goblin Market” The mystical and mythical words, imagery, and messages in “Goblin Market” were enough to make critics and scholars subject the work through a variety of lenses, particularly sexuality, submission, feminism, and even vampiricism.
While Rossetti denounced any allegations regarding purported themes outside of her declared affinity for religion and emphasized that the work was exclusively imagined for children—apparently referring to the nature of it being a magical tale with a moral, and the celebration of loyalty and sisterhood—in-depth analysis showed it to espouse strong opinions on feminism and oppression. One of the symbols used throughout the piece is of fruits, which somehow relate to varying and relative depictions of sex and sexuality.
The ‘fruit’ in the poem is primarily appropriated as a representation of temptation, a common device found in many literary works. Perhaps the biggest reason for “Goblin Market” being viewed as a feminist statement and a negation of feminine oppression is the circumstance of Rossetti’s Victorian society, when women were assigned to specific stereotypes and gender roles. Convention and tradition were at the top of the societal list of concerns, and the norms were necessarily followed for acceptance.
Tolerance was not exactly practiced at this time, and objections to the established rule were met with either ridicule or derision; thus a woman like Rossetti, staunch in her religious beliefs and standing, probably did not find it efficient to announce anti-establishment views lest these would affect her own status and credibility. III. Historical Feminine Portrayal Within the poem are several constructs that agree with literary structure and device yet substantially represent serious matters regarding feminism and oppression.
One of the most notable is the mention of the ‘fallen woman’, as personified by a legendary character named Jeanie: “Do you not remember Jeanie/How she met them in the moonlight/Took their gifts both choice and many/… But ever in the moonlight/She pined and pined away/Sought them by night and day/Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray” (Rosetti, lines 147-156) . The concept of superstition is rife in these lines, even affirmed as a rule followed by women; Lizzie’s admonition of her sister, “’ Dear, you should not stay so late/ Twilight is not good for maidens’” (Rossetti, lines 143-144), which clearly shows an example of oppression.
The eventual result is said to be ugliness as exemplified by growing old, which are deemed to be unsuitable outcomes for Victorian women. Moreover, Lizzie pronounces the ills that befell Jeanie, “Who should have been a bride/But who for joys brides hope to have/Fell sick and died/In her gay prime” (Rossetti, lines 323-326), thereby declaring the importance of marriage in a woman’s life—perhaps the most essential of any perceived accomplishment.
Typical of the Victorian era, youth and beauty are viewed to be the most necessary of all virtues, with ladylike skills, wifely duties, and domestic mastery fighting for the succeeding spots. As gleaned from the logic of the poem, fear is only effected when the factors of youthful appeal and attraction are threatened, and the ‘grey’ hair associated with the supposed wrongdoing of Jeanie permanently rendered her on the opposite end.
Aging and ugliness are observed in the same degree, and are enough to hinder women from becoming brides, or finding a husband. Victorian women were celebrated in history for their genteel manner and talent, which almost exclusively remain within the stereotype of femininity; this only makes sense in view of the opposite traits of masculinity, which becomes more apparent in the presence of emphasized femininity (Connell and Messerschmidt 831).
Aside from the graphic references to the sisters’ ‘golden heads’ and Jeanie’s grey-haired countenance, the stress on physical beauty and youth is also seen in the descriptions of the fruits being peddled by the goblins; plumpness, juiciness, and ripeness—which could approximate certain qualities that can be used to detail a woman’s body—are presented as equivalents of Laura’s own characteristics. The use of goblins and their physical and internal ugliness appear to be the challenge, yet more subtly shown as a representation of Victorian society in Rossetti’s mind.
Laura is the woman blessed with the traditional gifts of beauty, and the outcome of her decision to sacrifice them for the goblins’ wares is society’s punishment for desiring to veer from convention. Gender roles are not the only subjects of the poem, as the idea of oppression is made even more pronounced in the Rossetti’s lines “Though the goblins cuffed and caught her/Coaxed and fought her/… Lizzie uttered not a word/Would not open lip from lip/Lest they should cram a mouthful in”(Rossetti, lines 434-442).
The words and images reek of violence and force, created to portray a scene so frightful that it would scare any woman from choosing a path that runs against what has been assigned. Such a demonstration is appropriated by the poet as a symbol of Victorian society in its view of women; the values of meekness, submission, and blind acceptance are expected of the feminine population, and any deviation would mean devastation.
A significant parallelism is also observed from the female characters’ situation and circumstances in the poem, specifically in the way they are portrayed as easy to succumb to worldly pleasures—or to simply give up a personal gift in exchange for treasures. To best analyze the significance of Rossetti’s message, it is right to get to know Victorian England. This era was known for its repressive condition, which logically spawned the need and availability of sex workers; thus the women, who were always relegated in the paid labor context as household help, factory workers, or governesses, also found income as prostitutes.
Again, this affirms the presentation of Rossetti’s world as biased against females, for the very virtues and values that are upheld are the same ones that are exploited and belittled in the name of fulfilling masculine desire and superiority. These realities are manifested in Rossetti’s Victorian society, despite the collective devotion to religion and etiquette. On the other hand, it is perhaps these values that promotes the kind of inequality among men and women; privilege and power are limited to the male population, as well as opportunities for education and financial independence.
Women were kept within strict limits, as their education and training were all meant to develop their roles as mother and wife—talents such as embroidery, drawing, dance, music, and others were the only ones required for study (Roth, pars 13-15). Weakness and frailty were expected of women, and the ultimate social responsibility of bearing children was the only area of significance. Owning property was not even a possibility at this time until the enforcement in 1887 of the Married Woman’s Property Act (Thomas pars 5-6).
Clearly, with the focus entirely on the physical and submissive aspects of femininity, women are not just second-class citizens in this society; they were only deemed purposeful in terms of the assigned roles. Therefore Christina Rossetti’s apparent communication and her negation of the themes seen in her work are justifiable; she wanted to illustrate the kind of society inhabited by women during her time, yet did not opt to reveal herself as a woman who goes against establishment.
Yet the very essence of “Goblin Market” and the discussion of women seen as objects—rather than thinking individuals—are explicitly representative of the repressed and oppressive society of Victorian England. IV. A Feminist Analysis The women’s suffrage movement, which was gaining strength during this period in English history, was clearly an answer to the repressive conditions being imposed on the female population. Equality in terms of opportunity and privilege, skewed to the larger issue of gender, was the concern that needed specific solutions.
Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” is a classic declaration of the anti-patriarchal sentiments of the time, particularly in the era’s interpretation of femininity. Thus the discussion of feminism is appropriate in the analysis of the poem and its circumstance, for the presented situation of females—including the ‘fallen woman’, the negation of aging and ugliness, the preference for youth and beauty, and the corresponding punishment in the form of fear and violence—are classic manifestations of oppression.
Feminism involves criticizing patriarchy or the bias toward men and masculinity, and this poem is a feminist piece in disguise; though the images are predominantly childlike and the moral presented typically appeal to children, the positive concept of sisterhood lends itself to the celebration of femininity and gender equality. Societies in most countries and earlier periods often believed in the idea that “what is contrary to women’s nature to do, they will never be made to do by simply giving their nature free play” (Mill 205), which is the reason why women are subjected to the only remaining areas where they are believed to be more suited.
Therefore the battle between the poem’s character Lizzie and the evil goblins shows the masculine prerogative to control and take the upper hand; Lizzie’s appropriation of the unexpected and the non-acceptance of what was prescribed by the men is seen as a violation of the feminine nature of submission. The depiction of women in “Goblin Market” significantly puts them as physically inferior to men, notwithstanding their acknowledged beauty—exactly how society saw them.
By showing the goblins as small and ugly creatures, it should have been logical to expect them to be weaker, but instead they turn out to be controlling and manipulative, and unwilling to accept the strength of a woman. This coincides with the claim that “women are inferior to men because their development must be earlier arrested by reproductive functions… and that males have evolved muscle and brains much superior to females” (Blackwell 357), which thereby limits women to have capacities only found in the realm of child-bearing.
Thus any efforts made by men—however weaker or uglier they may be—were always rewarded with victory, as with the goblins. The fact that these creatures were shown selling fruits that approximated the physical qualities of women further emphasized the objectification made toward gender; at all instances, the elements of body and appearance, epitomized by youth and beauty, are put in the forefront. Rossetti’s disguised promotion of feminism should now be revealed as an outright declaration, considering the facts presented.
There is an uplifting ideology in the use of sisterhood as the ultimate solution, for women are then recommended to seek solace in similarities and the forging of unity. The negation of the ills of a male-centered society and the obvious concentration on beauty and youth is the goal of the text, albeit positioned as a simple tale for young minds. V. Conclusion Christina Rossetti’s exemplary use of technique and imagery proves to be the perfect means to convey the essential message to women and Victorian society.
Thematically, many have failed in discerning the ideals of feminism in the piece owing to the fairy tale-like style appropriated; however, this device may have been the poet’s intention in order to allow her work to reach more audiences and not suffer censorship. Discussing the way women had been objectified and stereotyped during the period could have been unsuccessful had Rossetti used a more obvious style, and only the subjection of the poem to literary and feminist analysis revealed the actual goal of the poet. Works Cited Primary Rossetti, Christina.
“Goblin’s Market”. Victorian Web. 2007. 27 June 2009 <http://www. victorianweb. org/authors/crossetti/gobmarket. html>. Secondary Blackwell, Antoinette Brown. “Sex and Evolution”. The Feminist Papers. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Bantam Books, Inc. , 1973, pp. 356-377. Connell, R. W. and Messerschmidt, James. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept”. Gender & Society Vol. 19 No. 6 (December 2005): 829-859. Everrett, Glenn. “The Life of Christina Rossetti”. Victorian Web. 2007. 27 June 2009 <http://www. victorianweb. org/authors/crossetti/rossettibio. html>.Sample Essay of RushEssay.com