Embracing Lesbian Tendencies and Desires in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market
Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti, lends itself to many intelligent interpretations of the reading, but I will argue that the characters of Goblin Market, Laura, and Lizzie, embraces their lesbian sexual desires, and the powerful bond they share between each other. I will also state an argument that Laura and Lizzie were not “siblings”, but sisters by the kinship and closeness of a society of sisterhood.
I begin saying my case with the opening of the poem, where goblins were enticing, and seducing the village maids with the temptations of their fruits. (Rossetti 11. 2-4) We immediately see that the male goblins arouse the maids’ hopes and desires. The men entice the young girls with their ripe, sweet, and full male anatomy. The men insist the maids taste and try their figs which will fill her mouth, and be sweet to the tongue and sound to the eye. (Rossetti 11. 28-31) In my opinion, this reading is describing the genitals of the goblins and their desire for sexual ventures.
Rossetti uses phrases such as “Plump, unplucked cherries”, (Rossetti 1.7) which were a term that started in the sixteenth century when stones were often known as testicles and cherries were the dark pubic hair of women. The phrase can also mean more than fruit, such as a girl who is still pure. In the phrase “All ripe together”, can translate as a girl who is at the peak age for sexual intercourse. A more modern translation of the phrase, is from the nineteenth century, around the time that Rossetti introduced Goblin Market. This meaning will lead us to the assumption that people could see girls who were virgins as “ripe for plucking.” Still today, slang terms such as, “pop your cherry,” is still prevalent among girls who are virgins. Using such language suggests that the goblins, or aggressive men, prefer the village girls who are young, innocent and without knowledge of sexual acts.
The village girls are attracted and tempted by the cries of the goblin men. (Rossetti 1.46) When the characters of the story, Laura, and Lizzie, are introduced, the goblin men quickly tempt Laura with the fruit they are offering. Soon Laura is peeping at the men and bowing her head to hear them with tingling cheeks and finger tips, which suggest she is curious about them. Lizzie blushes and replies to Laura that evil gifts will harm them. (Rossetti 1.35) We can assume that the girls blush because of the attention of a man, but I believe that because of their lesbian sexual nature is the reason Lizzie blushes and replies that their evil gifts will harm. She could have been meaning that their sexual gifts might turn or corrupt them from their lesbian tendencies to more heterosexual ways.
After reading this encounter between Laura, Lizzie, and the goblin men, one can conclude that Laura and Lizzie are merely young, innocent sisters. But I will continue to argue that the relationship between Laura and Lizzie is a sexual partnership between two young maids who live together in the village. Laura seems to allow the goblin men to tempt her sexually, she knows that there is one thing that the goblin men can give her that is undoable from Lizzie. There is never any mention of parents in the text. In fact, there is never any suggestion of any guardian presence in the village, which indicates that Laura and Lizzie are both of age where they can care for themselves. I conclude that we can explore the idea that Laura and Lizzie are lesbian lovers indeed.
When reading Laura’s encounter with the goblin men (Rossetti 11.128-136), we learn that she went to the goblin men after being tempted by what they were offering. We also read they seem to find pleasure in her experience with them as stated in, the text,
“Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red: Sweeter than honey from the
rock. Stronger than man-rejoicing wine, Clearer than water flowed
that juice. She never tasted such before, how should it cloy with length
of use? She sucked and sucked and sucked the more Fruits which that
unknown orchard bore.”
To me, the passage is describing a sexual act that Laura is performing on the goblin men. “Clearer than water flowed that juice,” could be describing the men’s semen, and “How should it cloy with length of use?” in my interpretation is defining the size of the penis, and it is cloying by the stickiness of the bodily fluids.
But we must explore the reasons, other than temptation, for Laura to succumb to such behavior. I believe the causes of the sexual acts with the goblin men, was so that she could get pregnant and have a child with Lizzie. The fruits that the goblin men, was offering were the means to become pregnant. When Laura returns home after her encounter with the goblin men, Lizzie is upset and jealous with her and tries to persuade her never to go back again. (Rossetti 1.163) Laura proclaims she will go back to the goblin men, but when she returns she will bring Lizzie back fruit, “Cherries worth getting”, “Melons, icy-cold”, “Peaches with a velvet nap” (Rossetti 11.170-179), fruits describing sexual acts that she would pleasure Lizzie with upon her return. The text then reads, “Golden head by golden head, Like two pigeons in one nest, foldedin each other’s wings, they lay down in their curtain’d bed:” (Rossetti 11.184-187) which clearly indicates they sleep in the same bed together.
The next passage demonstrates that not only do they sleep in the same bed, but they sleep against each other, touching breasts. An example of a lesbian relationship.
“Like two blossoms on one stem, Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory Tipp’d with gold for awful kings. Moon
and stars gaz’d in at them, Wind sang to them lullaby, Lumbering
owls forbore to fly, Not a bat flapp’d to and fro Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast Lock’d together in one nest.” (Rossetti 11.188-198)
We learn that Laura is struggling with her feelings about being with the goblin men, as the passage states, “One content, one sick in part,” (page 1500). Laura feels torn between what she feels and has with Lizzie and what the goblin men can give her. As we continue reading, we learn that Lizzie feelings bore discontentment with Laura’s decision to leave again, but Laura was like a leaping flame, excited and aroused at the thought of meeting the men again. For Laura knew the goblin men was her only hope to bear a child. Lizzie is urging Laura to go home with her. Lizzie is saying, “I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look.” She did not want to share Laura with the goblin men. We could go as far as to say that Lizzie jealous of the feelings, and not want to share. (Rossetti 1.243)
Laura went along with Lizzie, but the turmoil and guilt she felt, not only for betraying Lizzie but also using the goblin men to have a baby caused her to become sick and frail. “Her hair grew thin and gray,” (Rossetti 1.277) interprets the result of depression of knowing that she would never have a child in her relationship with Lizzie. Lizzie was watching Laura knocking on death’s door, and so was willing to sacrifice her sexuality to make Laura happy. As humans, desire is one of the strongest emotions we inherit. We find it almost impossible to control what we crave; however, we learn not all things are necessary.
Lizzie was willing to maintain and suppress her lesbian desires to help Laura. Lizzie, however, did not experience such pleasure with the goblin men. Maybe Lizzie was not open to the experience. Or maybe she was resistant to change. Lizzie did not desire to pleasure the men with oral sexual acts, and the men groping and fondling Lizzie, but regardless, Lizzie returned which what she most needed, (Rossetti 1.360-363) the fruits to bear a child. Lizzie went home to reveal to Laura her sacrifice to save the bond and love between them.
Laura, realizing the love that Lizzie had for her, by the sacrifices she was willing to make begin helping her become healthy and happy. It was the realization that someone loved her so much that they would sacrifice their desires for her wishes. That love was what brought Laura out of her depression and sickness. It showed her the love that she and Lizzie shared together, and the sacrifices that Lizzie was willing to make for Laura’s wishes and desires to come true.
Some may argue with my case by stating that in the end both Lizzie and Laura was happily married with children. And in that case, in no way could they have been lesbian lovers. But I disagree with that statement and, in fact, argue that even though they have children, in no way does the text state that they had husbands. The poem does state, “Their lives bound up in tender lives; Laura would call the little ones and tell them of her early prime. Those pleasant days long ago of not-returning time:” (Rossetti 11.547-551) In this statement, Laura is story-telling of her prime days of long ago. The statement in no way insinuates that the children are just Laura’s or just Lizzie’s.
If we read further, we will see that Laura continues telling the children the story of the wicked men that were “Like honey to the throat, But poison to the blood.” (Rossetti 11. 554-555) We can research this stanza in further detail and come to the realization that Laura is describing the time with the goblin men to the children at the time they were conceived. We learn that Laura tells the children, of how, “In the deadly peril to do her good,” that Lizzie went to the goblin men too, “Win the fiery antidote. ” The fiery antidote that Lizzie received from the goblin men, of course, was being impregnated. (Rossetti 11.558-559) Lizzie was willing to sacrifice her sexuality for the gift that Laura most desired.
In conclusion, have stated many convincing statements and arguments that show to what extent Laura and Lizzie was willing to embrace their lesbian sexual desires. The facts also say a convincing argument of the part the goblin men played the role of both Laura and Lizzie, and their relationship with each other. The questions arising with the concerns between Laura’s relationship with the goblin men, as well as the role that Lizzie played, was explained if not also answered. Examples have been given from the reading that says they were both wives but has no mention of being married to husbands. When children are mentioned, it does not say that they were Lizzie’s children or Laura’s but leaves that topic open enough for us to say that the children belonged to the two of them together, the children conceived with the goblin men.
The facts that I have referenced, back up my theory that Laura and Lizzie were not sisters, but rather sisters of a kinship society. The research shows the lives that the young maidens shared, was a life of embracing their lesbian sexual relationship. It was not a life of two young sisters who was enticed and lured by the sexual desires of men, but rather a life of love between two women.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Norton and Company, Inc, 2012 9th Edition. Print