Goblin Market

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Illustration for the cover of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

"Goblin Market" (composed in April 1859 and published in 1862) is a narrative poem by Christina Rossetti. In a letter to her publisher, Rossetti claimed that the poem, which is interpreted frequently as having features of remarkably sexual imagery, was not meant for children. However, in public Rossetti often stated that the poem was intended for children, and went on to write many children's poems. When the poem appeared in her first volume of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems, it was illustrated by her brother, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


"Goblin Market" is about two close sisters, Laura and Lizzie, as well as the goblins to whom the title refers.

Although the sisters seem to be quite young, they live by themselves in a house, and are accustomed to draw water every evening from a stream. As the poem begins, twilight is falling, and as usual, the sisters hear the calls from the goblin merchants, who sell fruits in fantastic abundance, variety and savour. On this evening, Laura lingers at the stream after her sister has left for home, intrigued by the goblins' strange manner and appearance. (Rossetti hints that the "goblin men" resemble animals—for example, having faces like wombats or cats, and possessing tails.) Longing for the goblin fruits but having no money, the impulsive Laura offers a lock of her hair and "a tear more rare than pearl."

Laura gorges on the delicious fruit in a sort of bacchic frenzy, then once she is finished, after picking up one of the seeds, returns home in an ecstatic trance. Lizzie, waiting at home, and "full of wise upbraidings," reminds Laura about the cautionary tale of Jeanie, another girl, who, having likewise partaken of the goblins' fruits, died just at the beginning of winter, after a long and pathetic decline. Strangely, no grass grows over Jeanie's grave. Laura dismisses her sister's worries, and says she shall return to the goblins the next night and return with more fruits for herself and Lizzie. That night, the sisters go to sleep in their shared bed.

The next day, as Laura and Lizzie go about their work in the house, Laura dreamily longs for the coming evening's meeting with the goblins. However, at the stream that evening, as she strains to hear the usual goblin chants and cries, Laura discovers to her horror that, although Lizzie still hears the goblins' voices, she cannot.

Unable to buy more of the forbidden fruit, and sickening for the lack of it, Laura falls into a slow physical deterioration and depression. As winter approaches, she withers away, aging at an unnatural rate and physically unable to do her accustomed household work. One day she remembers the saved seed and plants it, but nothing grows.

Months pass, and Lizzie realizes that Laura is on the verge of death. Lizzie resolves to visit the goblins to buy some of their fruit, hoping to soothe Laura's pain. Carrying a silver penny, Lizzie goes down to the brook and is greeted in a friendly way by the goblins, who invite her to sit and dine with them. When they realize, however, that the Lizzie means to pay with mere silver to buy the goblin-fruits to help another person, they turn upon the girl. The goblins viciously pummel and assault Lizzie, and try to feed her their fruits by force. In the process, they drench the brave girl in fruit juice and pulp—but Lizzie ingests none of the goblin fruit.

Lizzie escapes and runs home, hoping that Laura will eat and drink the pulp and juice from her body. Her dying sister does so, but the taste of the fruit repulses her rather than satisfies her hunger. Laura then undergoes a violent transformation of such intensity that her life seems to hang in the balance.

By morning, however, Laura is restored, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The last stanza attests that both Laura and Lizzie live to tell their children of the evils of the goblins' fruits—and the powers of sisterly love.


Since the 1970s, critics have tended to view as an expression of Rossetti's feminist (or proto-feminist) and homosexual politics. Some critics suggest the poem is about feminine sexuality and its relation to Victorian social mores. In addition to its clear allusions to Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit, and temptation, there is much in the poem that seems overtly sexual,[1] such as when Lizzie, going to buy fruit from the goblins, considers her dead friend Jeanie, "Who should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have / Fell sick and died", and lines like, "She sucked their fruit globes fair or red"; and "Lizzie uttered not a word;/ Would not open lip from lip/ Lest they should cram a mouthful in;/ But laughed in heart to feel the drip/ Of juice that syruped all her face,/ And lodged in dimples of her chin,/ And streaked her neck which quaked like curd."

The poem's attitude toward this temptation seems ambiguous, since the happy ending offers the possibility of redemption for Laura, while typical Victorian portrayals of the "fallen woman" ended in the fallen woman's death. It is worth noting that although the historical record is lacking, Rossetti apparently began working at Highgate Penitentiary for fallen women shortly after composing "Goblin Market" in the spring of 1859.

Some critics believe that some feminist interpretations of the work leave out an anti-semitic nature within the poem. The critic Cynthia Scheinberg believes the Goblins to be "Hebraic," anti-semitic and anti-Judaic characters that the tested Christian sisters Laura and Lizzie must face in order to transition into wholesome and complete young women.[2]

Other critics focus not on gender but on the Victorian consciousness of a capitalist critique of the growing Victorian economic market, whether in relation to sisters' Lizzie and Laura's interaction with the market as gendered beings, the agricultural market, or in the rapid increase in advertising the "Market."[3] When "Goblin Market" was released in April 1859, most Victorians weren't able to purchase fresh fruit, a historical note of importance when reading the poem for Victorian agriculture and tone.[3]

According to Antony Harrison of North Carolina State University, Jerome McGann reads the poem as a criticism of Victorian marriage markets and conveys "the need for an alternative social order". For Sandra Gilbert, the fruit represents Victorian women's exclusion from the world of art.[4] Other scholars – most notably Herbert Tucker – view the poem as a critique on the rise of advertising in pre-capitalist England, with the goblins utilising clever marketing tactics to seduce Laura. J. Hartman, among others, has pointed out the parallels between Laura's experience and the experience of drug addiction. Another interpretation has observed an image of Jesus Christ in Lizzie when she says: "Eat me, drink me, love me."[1] This is imagery used to identify Christ's sacrifice in communion services.

The poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme, often using couplets or ABAB rhymes, but also repeating some rhymes many times in succession, or allowing long gaps between a word and its partner. The metre is also irregular, typically (though not always) keeping three or four stresses, in varying feet, per line. The lines below show the varied stress patterns, as well as an interior rhyme (grey/decay) picked up by the end-rhyme with "away". The initial line quoted here, "bright", rhymes with "night" a full seven lines earlier.

But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.


  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems. 1st Ed. London: Macmillan, 1862. (Binding, frontis and title page by D.G. Rossetti).
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. London: Macmillan, 1893. (Illustrator: Laurence Housman)
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market, Prince's Progress and Other Poems. London: Oxford UP, 1913.
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh, 1933. (Illustrator: Arthur Rackham)
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. London: George G. Harrap, 1933. (Illustrator: Arthur Rackham)
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970. (Illustrator: Ellen Raskin)
  • Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Playboy September 1973: 115-119. (Illustrator: Kinuko Craft) -- also includes nude photography
  • Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. London: Victor Gollancz, 1980. (Illustrator: Martin Ware)
  • Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Pathways to Fantasy July 1984: 9-18.

Popular culture references[edit]

  • Goblin Market was the title of a swing instrumental written by Spud Murphy for the Joe Haymes orchestra, recorded in 1934
  • Grant Morrison in the 1990s version of Dan Dare quotes from "Goblin Market"—“'We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits: / Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?'”—as a clue to the Mekon's intentions.
  • Doctor Who "Midnight" (first aired 14 June 2008, episode no. 196): Dee Dee, a graduate assistant accompanying a professor, quotes the same lines, suggesting that the alien who has possessed a passenger on their shuttle cruiser is like a goblin (a dangerous and mysterious entity). The Doctor explains the literary reference.
  • Agatha Christie's Poirot "Cat Among The Pigeons" (season 11, episode 2) : A schoolteacher at a prestigious all-girls school reads lines from "Goblin Market" to her class.
  • Sarah Rees Brennan's 2009 novel The Demon's Lexicon features the Market as a Gypsy-like society of people who barter and trade magical artifices and oppose the power hungry Magicians and the Demons they have evoked to the earthly plane.


  1. ^ a b Mermin, Dorothy (1983). "Heroic Sisterhood in Goblin Market". Victorian Poetry. 21 (2): 107–118. JSTOR 40002024. 
  2. ^ Galchinsky, Michael (2003-01-01). "Women's Poetry and Religion in Victorian England: Jewish Identity and Christian Culture (review)". Victorian Studies. 45 (3): 551–553. doi:10.1353/vic.2003.0122. ISSN 1527-2052. 
  3. ^ a b Pionke, Albert D. (2012-01-01). "The Spiritual Economy of "Goblin Market"". SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. 52 (4): 897–915. doi:10.1353/sel.2012.0037. ISSN 1522-9270. 
  4. ^ This material, which is quoted from Harrison's book Christina Rossetti in Context, is copyrighted and can be found here.

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