We Are Family

Christina Rossetti was she was a nineteenth century poet.  Rossetti’s designation as a women affected the interpretation of her poem Goblin Market because it is seen as natural for women to write for children and not for adults (Humphreys Lecture 4).  Rossetti did not intend Goblin Market to be a poem for children, simply based on the fact that the poem itself holds very mature and chilling content.  The poem’s main characters, sisters Lizzie and Laura, find themselves experiencing ways of life that they have previously been unfamiliar with.  Both Lizzie and Laura struggle with their identity throughout this poem.  Their innocence is tainted and tested by the sexual encounters that the sisters experience.  “‘Goblin Market,’ most frequently reads as an allegory of sexual fall, is, perhaps more accurately, also a poem about sexual differences…” (Michie 415).  Rossetti explores a new realm when it comes to Lizzie and Laura and their relationship as sisters.

Goblin Market Book Images 5

“Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;” (Rossetti 468-471)

Such allusions to an intimate relationship between Laura and Lizzie would have been seen as unorthodox within Christina Rossetti’s lifetime.  Her religious views were strictly Anglican and this is evident throughout her work (Escobar).  Goblin Market is undercut with numerous religious aspects such as the fallen women, who would be Laura and one who saves them, who would be Lizzie. I am unsure if Rossetti was aware of the lesbian sexuality that is alluded to throughout the sister’s relationship in the poem. With her religious views, it could be said that Rossetti would not write with any indication of homosexual relationships.  However, the content of Goblin Market lends itself to a different interpretation. “Not only are Rossetti’s men grotesque and therefore unfit for commerce with Lizzie and Laura; Rossetti’s poem is in fact remarkable for its unusually vivid suggestion of an incestuous lesbian sexuality” (Flannigan 29).


“Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtain’d bed:
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” (Rossetti 184-197)

I believe that Rossetti’s intent was to display how females are not defined by males.  The goblin men who entice Laura into eating the fruit are to be seen as overpowering beings.  However, it is Lizzie who stands up to the goblin men in the end, in order to save her sister’s life.  She then becomes the more powerful gender within the poem.  As we talked about in the Diana Fuss’s Reading Like a Feminist, “no man should seek in any way to diminish the authority which the experience of women gives them in speaking about that experience” (Fuss 25).  This resonates with everyone in the world, not strictly females. We need to be able to identify from our personal frame of reference whether it is lesbian, gay, bisexual transgendered, or queer (LGBTQ).   In the case of Rossetti’s poem it is unclear if her intent is to show the sisters as lesbian “The poem acknowledges the likelihood of women to fall, something the iconographic fallen woman, whether victim of seduction, adulteress, or prostitute, made pervasive in nineteenth-century culture” (Escobar).  By removing the goblin men from the picture, Rossetti allows the sisters to bask in the love that they share for each other.  They do not need men to define them, even if they are seen as fallen women.  They are able to right their wrongs by sticking together.  The sisters’ struggle with identity can be observed from two viewpoints:  an unconventional sibling relationship and an unconventional gendered relationship.  These themes are evident in John Bolton’s 1984 painting titled For there is no friend like 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.”  (Rossetti 562-567)

A sister does not have to be someone who is related to you by blood.  It can also be “a female friend or associate, especially a female fellow member of a trade union or other organization” (Oxford English Dictionary).  The concept of sisterhood became popular in the 1970’s, and is epitomized by the song We Are Family by Sister Sledge which became the defacto anthem for many women’s groups.  The fact that this term can be ambiguous means that Rossetti is not trying to categorize her characters.  The journey that the sisters experience together is the most important aspect of the poem.  The idea of maleness as a central theme is abolished within Rossetti’s writing.  This aspect of lesbian relationships is eye-opening and the gender performance roles are challenged throughout Goblin Market. 

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