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The Rebellious Woman: Gender and Sexuality in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market

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Queens College

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  1. Introduction
  2. Wondering what makes the fruit
  3. Rossetti's sexual relationships with men
  4. Rossetti's faith to refute any sexual undertones
  5. The themes of evil and sin
  6. The lines that follow those of Laura selling her curl
  7. The sentiment of sisterhood
  8. The Madwoman in the Attic
  9. Conclusion
  10. Works cited

One cannot help but notice the numerous interpretations of Christina Rossetti's ?Goblin Market? that pertain to either gender, sex, or religion. The poem itself has been scrutinized more often than one can count, critics often referring to its erotic subtext and similarities to various biblical passages. In this essay I intend to expand on those sentiments, suggesting that there does not need to be one simple explanation, but rather a series of interconnected theories, central to the poem's theme of temptation, sin, and the Fall. I will focus on the specific aspects of gender and sexuality and how conjecture surrounding ?Goblin Market? is rooted in these inferior female roles, roles that stem from and are caused by what Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar refer to as the ?submissive silences of domesticity? (Gilbert and Gubar 1537). In addition to this, there are several aspects of Rossetti's poetic fable that critics have yet to examine thoroughly. One of these is the notion of the ?madwoman,? and how female behavior of a rampant, rebellious or sexual nature is seen as unnatural or ?mad?. In the sexually repressed Victorian society, women weren't allowed to openly enjoy sex, not if they wanted to remain ?good? and ?chaste.? The alternative would be to go the route of Rossetti's fallen woman Jeanie, which?the poem shows?leads to death. Simply put: good girls live; bad girls die.

[...] This theory of chastity and charity that Rossetti utilizes throughout the poem is very common in the works of John Milton, who, in addition to Comus, wrote Paradise Lost, which mirrors the Adam and Eve tale in the Garden of Eden and tells the story of the Devil's fall from Heaven. Vejvoda takes the religious theme a step further, citing Lizzie as a ?female Christ figure.? According to Vejvoda, these themes of Temptation and the Fall fascinated Rossetti as she ?explored these same concerns in her own poetry and devotional prose? (Vejvoda 1). [...]


[...] When Laura returns home, in a daze, Lizzie scolds her for staying out amongst the goblin men, reminding her of a girl named Jeanie who surrendered to the goblins' tempting and then was never satisfied, always wanting more, until she withered away grew grey? (156). This scene is reminiscent of when girls gossip amongst themselves, warning of that one girl who dresses provocatively or acts suggestively, and to stay away from her, or when mothers warn their daughters to steer clear of that one neighbor girl who is always seen on the back of some boy's motorcycle. [...]


[...] Perhaps Rossetti's poem isn't a fairy tale at all but should rather be interpreted as an appreciation of the endearing love shared between sisters, and women in general. And the sentiment Rossetti makes regarding the goblin men and the allure of sin is that only women can save each other from the temptation of men, and the fascination with the mystery of sex. Women must join together, unite against the enticements of men and the appeal of sin. The fact that Rossetti wrote ?Goblin Market? for her sister, supports this theory. [...]

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