Author: Arthur Rackham, Christina Rossetti
Publisher: Chronicle Books
First Published: 1862
Genres: Classics, Poetry
Source: Library, Public Domain
Beautifully illustrated with pre-Raphaelite paintings by the author’s brother, this phantasmagoric poem about two girls seduced by lewd goblin men serving up forbidden fruits provides a lush and startling look into the depths of the Victorian psyche.
My goodness, what a beautiful and surprising poem this is. The Goblin Market is a classic poem filled to the brim with enchanting rhymes and fairytale-like imagery. It tells the story of a pair of sisters as they encounter goblin men selling fruit. The story is a clear allegory about temptation and has a strong moral lesson about the value and strength of a sister.
“For there is no friend like a sister In calm or stormy weather; To cheer one on the tedious way, To fetch one if one goes astray, To lift one if one totters down, To strengthen whilst one stands.”
This poem has been interpreted several different ways: the wickedness of men, drug addiction, a criticism of marriage and capitalism in the Victorian era, you name it. While it’s difficult to say for sure since the poem is intentionally ambiguous about the meaning, for myself personally it gave me the impression of being about the loss of innocence.
The young girls that ate the fruit became shells of who they were, bringing to mind the “fallen woman” trope from Victorian England. This trope harshly judges female promiscuity and the social belief that a woman’s sexuality should be reserved for their husbands. Marriage is brought up a few times in the poem as part of the natural order, while the goblin men and their succulent fruit were dangerous because they only appeared to un-ruined young maidens.
“She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died”
The prose is lyrical and reads like a children’s nursery rhyme but whether or not it is appropriate for younger audiences is a little blurry, even from the author. The poem is dark and sinister at varying points and deals pretty directly with addiction and death. I felt that the imagery was a little too sexual to be appropriate for younger readers.
All in all, this was a magical poem that I really enjoyed. It’s easy to read in one sitting and the book is beautifully illustrated. It’s an interesting piece to study both for poetry as an art form but also for the era within which it was written. It’s one that I can comfortably recommend for anyone that likes fairy tales.