Christina Rossetti 's "Goblin Market," like most art by members of the Pre-Raphaelite group, is teeming with symbolism. And guess what – this means there's plenty of work to be done digging up the good stuff. Not that it's uninteresting on the surface, or narrative, level. "Goblin Market" is about two sisters, one of whom gets sick after eating bad goblin fruit, and is healed because of her sister's bravery.
The Rossettis were an extraordinary family. Christina Rossetti was the youngest child in a family of poets, artists, and philosophers. Christina's father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian political refugee. Rossetti was married to an English woman, and he continued to live in England because he couldn't return to Italy. Christina's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a poet, a painter, and a prominent member of the artistic group called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. William Michael Rossetti another brother, was a literary and art critic. Maria Francesca, Christina's older sister, was intensely religious and eventually became a nun. Like many young English women in the Victorian period (i.e., during the reign of Queen Victoria, or 1837-1901), Christina Rossetti was educated at home. Like her sister, she was a devout Anglo-Catholic. But like her brothers, Christina was also closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She wrote occasional poems and essays for the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ. Encouraged by her family, she eventually published a collection of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems, in 1862.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was a group of painters, poets, and critics who thought that art had gone down the tubes since the time of the Renaissance Italian painter Raphael. They wanted both visual art and poetry to return to the intense colors and vivid detail typical of artists in the early Italian Renaissance. Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets depicted even the humblest objects with great detail – nothing was beneath their notice.
But their art wasn't just about nostalgia for the past. The Pre-Raphaelites were also progressive and forward thinking. The PRB wanted to buck the system and rebel against the kind of art taught by the Royal Academy schools in England. They thought that all forms of art were closely linked, so they encouraged PRB members to dabble in different media: painters tried writing poetry, and poets tried painting. Christina Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel, was the most successful at integrating different forms. He's now remembered as both a painter and poet.
Christina Rossetti was never an official member of the PRB (after all, it was a "Brotherhood"), but she was still an important part of the group. Her brother, Dante Gabriel, contributed paintings to illustrate "Goblin Market." In addition, her poems are all clearly influenced by the values of the PRB. Check out the "Best of the Web" section to see examples of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings for "Goblin Market."
Some folks like to read "Goblin Market" as just being about female heroism and sisterhood, and stop there. But you can also read it as an allegory about bad markets and bad investments (this should sound familiar to anyone who has turned on the TV, seen a newspaper, or glanced at a news site lately). Or you could read "Goblin Market" as a scathing criticism of the way women were objectified and treated as commodities on a marriage market during the Victorian period. You could also read it as a poem about sexual purity.
In other words, "Goblin Market" has a lot going on. If you're interested in heroism, the economy, marriage, or sex (and we're sure at least one of those things will catch your attention), "Goblin Market" is definitely for you.