In ‘Goblin Market’, Christina Rossetti alludes to the traditional discourse of forbidden fruit and the biblical account of the Fall to challenge the decidedly patriarchal perception of women within Victorian culture in terms of sexuality, education and the marketplace and also to reconstruct the Christian idea of redemption.
The forbidden fruit undoubtedly refers to female sexuality, yet it can also relate to female education and knowledge. Victorian women were forbidden to indulge in sexual pleasure because they were regarded as the passionless angels in the house, and were seen as ‘too pure and sacred to share in the disgusting lusts that afflicted men’. At the same time, they were not to be given the same education as men because it was believed that too much intellectual activity would cause their reproductive organs to malfunction.
From 1859 to 1870 Rossetti was a volunteer worker at the St Mary Magdalene house of charity in High-gate, a refuge for fallen women. In ‘Goblin Market’ Rossetti 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. She does not support the way society deals with such women. She suggests that instead of ostracism, society should be encouraged to sacrificially embrace them as Lizzie embraces Laura.
When Laura tastes the goblin fruit for the first time it tastes very sweet. But when she tastes the juices the second time, they are no longer sweet. The imperfect society of Victorian England forbids such items to women, and therefore the consumption of these fruits brings destruction within that particular society.
Rossetti worked at High-gate. She did not see much difference between the woman who sells herself in marriage, who does not marry for a genuine love, and the woman who has sexual experience before marriage because she is fooled by the promises of human love. Both are guilty of placing the things of earth before God.
In the poem Lizzie is shown to act in order to promote freedom for women within her society by confronting the goblins- and consequently the patriarchal system of ostracism. Rossetti was evidently torn between realizing how blatantly her society seemed to disregard the biblical precedence for forgiveness and acceptance and actually being able to function effectively as an individual within that society.
Thus, Rossetti addresses the restrictions placed on women, using biblical examples to reveal that these restrictions are incongruous with the will of God. She puts her unswerving hope in Christ and heaven for the restoration of her society.