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Historical Context in Goblin Market
Victorian-era expectations: In the early Victorian era, there were strict rules and expectations about sexuality. Women were considered weak, innocent, and naive with little to no sexual appetite or inclinations. In contrast, men were at fault for incidents pertaining to indiscretion and blamed for taking advantage of the fragility of women. Later in the Victorian era, the rules and expectations changed. Now, women were at fault for enticing men, who were simply acting on their innate sexual desires. One thing stayed consistent throughout the era: chastity was extremely important. A woman’s chastity was thought to be the most important thing, and those who were not pure and chaste were looked down upon in society.
Rossetti’s Inspiration: There are two proposed ideas for inspiration for this text. In 1859, Rossetti began volunteering at St. Mary Magdalene’s Penitentiary, a refuge and charitable institution dedicated to “fallen women,” where she worked with women who were engaged in deviant sexual acts. Another possible source of inspiration comes from the poem’s dedication, “To M. F. R.” These are the initials of Rossetti’s sister, Mary, who reportedly helped her avoid eloping with a married man.
Historical Context Examples in Goblin Market :
"Eat me, drink me..." See in text (Goblin Market )
Lizzie’s speech when she returns from her trial with the goblins mimics the Eucharist, a Christian ceremony in which wine and bread are consecrated and then eaten to symbolize or embody Jesus’s Last Supper. In this ceremony, the priest will repeat Christ’s words, “take this, eat, this is my body broken for you; take this, drink, this is my blood.” Lizzie’s “eat me, drink me” command invokes these words and compares her to this religious figure.
"Who should have been a bride;..." See in text (Goblin Market )
According to Victorian expectations, a woman’s function was to get married. Jeanie’s indulgence in the goblin’s fruit can be read as a metaphor for having sex before marriage. In this reading, she dies as a result of her moral misstep.
"Odorous..." See in text (Goblin Market )
At this time, the adjective “odorous” meant sweet-smelling or pleasantly fragrant.
"clipped a precious golden lock..." See in text (Goblin Market )
Because Laura does not have money to buy the fruit she pays with a lock of her hair. Metaphorically, this means she is paying with her body. In the Victorian era, locks of hair were exchanged between lovers as a symbol of their commitments to each other. However, Laura trades her hair to indulge in sweet fruit rather than to secure a marriage to a loved one. This payment suggests that the poem is a metaphor for the dangers of sacrificing chastity in order to give in to temptation.
"ratel..." See in text (Goblin Market )
A “ratel” is a type of honey badger which would have been exotic to Victorian readers. Notice that the goblins are not only portrayed as animalistic but also exotic. They are so strange that they must be a combination of familiar and imaginary beasts.
"wombat..." See in text (Goblin Market )
A “wombat” is an Australian marsupial with rodent-like teeth and claws that burrows into the ground. The British empire began to colonize Australia in 1770 and began passing land rights laws in the 1830s. Rossetti’s mention of this strange exotic animal both paints the goblins as strange creatures and reveals the colonial backdrop of this poem. Written in 1859, “Goblin Market” could also be read as indicative of anxiety about Britain's growing colonial empire: these new places were so different from Europe that they might have seemed threatening to a Victorian mindset.
"men..." See in text (Goblin Market )
While at the beginning of the poem the goblins are just monsters from folklore, now they are specified as “men.” This creates a connection between the tempting fruit and the masculine threat to chastity. In the Victorian era in which this was written, female sexuality was strictly regulated and restricted. A woman who exhibited desire or had extramarital sex was seen as a “fallen woman,” an unworthy deviant. To these two “maids” the most threatening temptation would be men and the carnal desire they trigger.