1.4.4 Feminism

Feminism, her dream

Christina Rossetti had on the core of her personality the feminism. It was her real yearning which included the other whishes and repressions from that kind of society: sexuality, a more open mind to religion  and Victorian morals. Feminism is present on ‘Goblin Market’ as you will see at the end  of this page.

‘Goblin Market’ addresses sexual and intellectual issues of female desire. It’s closely related to the subversive power of virginity of Victorian Society; that defies the idea that a woman needs a man to be whole: “the virginity myth developed the image of the ‘whole’ female body, whose hymen remains unbroken and possessed to the innocent ‘integrity’ or wholeness that Eve enjoyed before the Fall”.

The Victorian Society deprived woman of cultural knowledge. Men were the only important people in the society; women were considered useless and null. So, Christina Rossetti in silence was against this repression and she wanted to change her society.

With this resolution, it does not seem possible that Rossetti sets up a straightforward dichotomy of abstention as good and consumption as sinful. It is more a picture of the hope deferred, to which she often refers in her poetry as becoming a hope lost — women are allowed a portion of knowledge, whether it relates to their sexuality or intelligence, but with that revelation they must realise that regardless of their innate gifts or abilities, society will not allow them to reach their potential. Brad Sullivan points out, Rossetti’s “‘hope’ for meaning and clarity and completeness must be ‘deferred’ until she can escape from the self-destructive cycles of worldly existence”. Thus it is possible that Laura’s need for “salvation” is not a result of sinfulness, but of dissatisfaction with her society.

The link between spiritual redemption and social reformation was clearly evident at the St Mary Magdalene house of charity in Highgate, a refuge for fallen women, where Rossetti was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870. True success in the mission of the home was found in the fulfilment of a twofold purpose: to reform penitent women into “reliable domestic servants” and to make them into active members of the Church of England.

This attitude is a decided move away from the unforgiving dominant one in her society, as seen in “A House of Mercy,” which emphasises the evils of sexual promiscuity. In “Goblin Market” Rossetti argues that “fallen women are not only streetwalkers and sinners but also loving sisters”. She promotes social acceptance, for Laura is able to live a “normal” life in the end, becoming a respectable wife and mother, whereas in Rossetti’s society, a woman once “fallen” could not regain respectability. Rossetti seems to be saying that if a perfect God can accept these women, society, which is itself imperfect and corruptible, should also accept them.

Although the spiritual state of the fallen woman is important to Rossetti, it does seem as though she concerned herself equally, if not more so, with the way society deals with such women. Instead of ostracism, society is encouraged to sacrificially embrace them as Lizzie embraces Laura. The message of the poem therefore becomes just as much for the “Lizzies” in Rossetti’s society as the “Lauras.” As Marsh says, the poem was simple enough for the uneducated girls at Highate but also appropriate for the “more sophisticated listeners schooled in religious exegesis…such as the staff at Highgate”. The redemption portrayed in “Goblin Market,” then, is not so much spiritual as social.

Rather than saying that “Goblin Market” has a particular theme, I would put forth the notion that it attempts to deal with certain problems Rossetti recognized within the canon of English literature, and specifically with the problem of how to construct a female hero. In “Goblin Market,” Rossetti creates a rudimentary framework of behaviour in which a female hero — a heroine — might operate. Rossetti’s efforts are to some degree successful, though she fails to solve the problem completely.

Blurred boundaries and the possibility of transgression, as many feminist critics writing on Gothic point out (see, for instance, Gilbert and Gubar, 1979), represent a special possibility for the archetypal entrapped heroine. In such a world, she can both clearly perceive the conditions of her oppression (enacted virtually exclusively by men) and find a means of liberating herself. “Goblin Market” exploits this possibility to the fullest, advancing a bold vision of breaking heterosexual male dominance in the economic and sexual spheres. The goblins – consistently referred to as “goblin men” – are the symbols and agents of that dominance.

Rossetti sees women as occupying a losing position on the “marriage market”, where, according to society’s standards, they are to trade their beauty and sexual availability for the security provided by a husband. On this market, it is the men – just like the goblin men – who dictate the conditions of the exchange. Women’s only bargaining power, which is dependent upon their looks, is not only fleeting, but also illusory, as men are in no way obligated to stay true to their commitments and will often exchange one woman for another; thus, every woman entering this market is, in fact, selling herself – prostituting herself – without any guarantee that the man will fulfill his part of the bargain, and the distinction between wife and whore does not make a significant difference. Victorian sexual morality stressed the fact that men are driven by powerful and uncontrollable urges, and thus cannot be held fully responsible for acts of infidelity.

Laura’s fall is therefore predestined by her gender: as a woman, she has no money of her own, and thus no power in the market; to get what she wants, she needs to sell herself, be consumed, become an abject. The market does not permit other positions than consumer and consumed. Lizzie, however, is able to resist the rape and degradation that the goblins attempt to force on her, because she comes into the market with a coin in her purse. She has bargaining power, however little, that does not depend on her body, and does not need to trade with the goblins on their conditions.

“Goblin Market” envisions a world in which women can, through the power of sisterhood, gain at least some measure of control over their fates and a degree of independence. The cautionary example of Jeanie shows how women deprived of sisterhood’s support will be consumed, figuratively and literally, on the “marriage market”; the aid that Lizzie is able to provide Laura with, in contrast, shows how they can secure their individuality and happiness. The idyllic nature of the poem’s resolution, where the sisters are “wives” of absent husbands, may seem unrealistically optimistic, but it contains within itself a project through which patriarchal standards may be at least partially resisted or avoided. Laura and Lizzie cannot completely retreat to a world without men – as they have both entered the market, they can leave it, ultimately, only as whores or wives – but, through mutual aid, they can retain their autonomy and happiness.

So, we must give to the poem a feminist reading, for we can almost say that a kind of proto-feminist is exactly what Rossetti was. Feminism and children’s literature, according to Beverley Lyon Clark, have the ability to go hand in hand, for “children’s literature has addressed some women!s concerns,” and so even if “Goblin Market” really was intended to be a children’s poem, it still could be feministic, since it does address some concerns of its female characters, Lizzie and Laura (171). The possibility of “Goblin Market” as a feminist poem was not brought to light until the mid 1900s, when feminism began to infiltrate literary criticism and theory, especially among young, educated women who were able to take notice first of “Goblin Market” and then of Rossetti herself, and we can speculate that Rossetti felt as though her relationships with other women were a very important aspect of her life judging by her own relationships with her mother and her own sister, and also by looking at her work in the Women’s Penitentiary Movement.

We can assume that if “Goblin Market” is to be interpreted as a feminist poem, that between the two female characters, one of whom is obviously in need of assistance from the other, that the sister who steps in and saves her troubled sister is the poem’s heroine. Therefore, Lizzie can be considered to be a heroine, given the fact that she risks her own life to save Laura from the goblin men’s perilous fruit and its devastating effects. This is truly a major, groundbreaking occurrence in literature, for women had, until this point and even after it, struggled to establish and maintain their place in literature both as writers and as heroic characters integrated into the poems, stories and novels written. Rossetti simultaneously creates a female Christ figure through Lizzie, and also creates herself as a palpable literary force. The idea of a woman as representative of Christ or having Christ-like redemptive qualities in a work of literature is groundbreaking and, if it was her intention to make Lizzie the
poem’s heroine or the savior of her sister, she shows that she has tremendous belief in equality of the sexes and of the power of women in general, which is why “Goblin Market” has been interpreted as a work containing feministic undertones.

I would like to finish by saying that it’s probable Laura and Lizzie in  ‘ Goblin Market’ represent Christina Rosseti and her sister Maria Francesca.




2 Responses to “1.4.4 Feminism”

  1.   Dagny Larney Says:

    A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!That is actually one of my personal favorite slogans! Go GIRRRLS! We should always be united and encourage each other in every single situation!Girls deserve better!I simply needed to talk about my irritation…ehh guys!

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