The Fallen Woman in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

Essay, 2016

4 Pages, Grade: 13


The Fallen Woman in Christina Rossetti's ‘Goblin Market'

In Victorian times, one of the virtues associated with the ideal middle- and upper-class woman, the so-called ‘angel in the house', was chastity. Women who lost their virtue out of wedlock or had sexual relations with a man other than their husband were considered a ‘fallen woman'. For these women, finding a suitable husband was usually out of the question. They could try to find a job, and in the worst case, ended up as prostitutes.

Christina Rossetti helped reintegrate fallen women into society. Nevertheless, Rossetti probably did not think that women should have the same sexual freedom as men. Many of her works deal with innocence and temptation, and the consequences of becoming a fallen woman. In this essay, it shall be explained how Goblin Market deals with the concept of the fallen woman, personified in both Jeanie and Laura.

‘Goblin market', a narrative poem, was first published in 1862. In the poem, sisters Laura and Lizzie are tempted into tasting fruit offered by goblin men, strange humanoid animals which only call upon maidens. For these fruit, a lock of hair is exchanged. When Laura succumbs to her desires, and as a result almost dies, Lizzie is willing to sacrifice herself to save her sister. The extract shows what happened after Laura is seduced by the strange creatures, and before Lizzie strives to save her sister from wasting away.

When reading the poem, the reader may notice flower symbolism. It may be argued that daisies are the most important flowers mentioned: Lizzie says that she planted them on the grave of the sisters' friend Jeanie, but they did not grow: “No grass will grow where she lies low: I planted daisies there a year ago that never blow.”1 This is an important aspect: In most cultures, daisies symbolise innocence and purity, and since Jeanie was seduced by the goblin men, she became a fallen woman and her innocence was lost even beyond her grave. This serves as a warning to the sisters, and as a possible foreshadowing for Laura.

Another of Rossetti's works contains lush flower symbolism: In “An Apple-Gathering”, the narrating woman has “plucked pink blossoms” from her “apple tree” and later, “found no apples there”.2 This symbolises her innocence lost out of wedlock; and as a consequence, the fallen woman's inability to find a husband to have children with, and thus to fulfil her duty to Victorian society.

Shortly before the extract at hand, Laura gave the goblin men a golden lock of her hair in exchange for as many fruit as she wanted. Hair was often used to represent sexuality, and the act of tasting luscious fruit can be seen as a metaphor for the sexual act between man and woman. By tasting the fruit, then, Laura gives away her innocence. When it became clear that she would not be called for again, Laura started wasting away in desire for the fruit. Similar to “An Apple-Gathering”, the premature tasting of fruit (or giving away of apple-blossoms) led to a loss of value of the female character. Laura and the unnamed narrator are no longer desirable for the society of (goblin) men.

In the extract, Laura and Lizzie take care of the household as usual, but Laura seems to be “in an absent dream” and “sick in part” longing for the forbidden fruit. While her sister Lizzie is “content” with “the mere bright day's delight”, Laura is “longing for the night”.

After a day's work, her sister is yearning to go home and wants to avoid the night, since “twilight is not good for maidens”3, but Laura is listening for the goblin men's cry again. The extract shows Laura's yearning to repeat the process that led to her becoming a fallen woman. She does not mind staying outside in the darkness, because she is no longer a maiden, and has become addicted to the fruit that in the eyes of society, led to her shame.

After the extract, Lizzie saves her sister by openly resisting the goblin men's temptation. They offer her fruit at first, and try to force her to eat them when she resists. Lizzie however, manages to have her virtue intact because she wants to buy the fruit with money, not with her body; she is the one in control, and not the goblin men's object. She eventually makes it home again, not unharmed, but virtuous. Laura survives the night, no longer wastes away and overcomes her lost virtue. The poem ends with both sisters happily married, and Laura telling her children about her adventures with the goblin men, and her sister's brave rescue. It seems that through Lizzie's pure love for her sister, she re-established Laura's position in society: She is no longer a fallen woman, since she manages to find a husband for herself, and do her duty as an angel in the house: She bears him children, and only looks back on the temptation of the goblin men as if in a dream. She did not end like Jeanie, but instead fulfilled her duty to society. Goblin Market serves both as a warning for young girls not to fall victim to their sexual desires, and as a criticism of Victorian society. Jeanie represents what usually happens to a woman without virtue; she dies alone, and her virtue is lost to her even in death. Laura, on the other hand, re-establishes her place in society after she is saved by a virtuous woman. The women's rights movement that began in the Victorian age has led to equality between men and women in many respects, but when it comes to sexuality, women are still not save from society's shackles: A woman who openly lives her sexuality with many partners is still seen as a ‘fallen woman' by many, while a man is usually not criticised for his sexual freedom. It remains to be seen if women will ever be truly free to do as they please, but society has come a long way.


1 Christina Rossetti, '"Goblin Market”, in The Norton Anthology: English Literature: The Victorian Age, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2012), pp. 1496-1508 (p. 1499).

2 Christina Rossetti, “An Apple-Gathering”, in The Norton Anthology: English Literature: The Victorian Age, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2012), p. 1494.

3 Christina Rossetti, '"Goblin Market”, in The Norton Anthology: English Literature: The Victorian Age, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2012), pp. 1496-1508 (p. 1499).

Excerpt out of 4 pages


The Fallen Woman in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"
University of Sheffield
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
fallen, woman, christina, rossetti, goblin, market
Quote paper
Michelle Blum (Author), 2016, The Fallen Woman in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Fallen Woman in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free