Queering the Victorians: Christina Rosetti’s ‘Goblin Market’

Title page to Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rosetti, as drawn by her brother Dante Rosetti.
An innocent sleeping position, or a lovers embrace?

“She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth,

Her lips began to scorch,

That juice was wormwood to her tongue

She loathed the feast”

-Christina Rosetti, ‘Goblin Market’.

Examine the above quote. What would you assume of the nature of relationship between these two women? If you imagined it to be romantic you would not be the first

While many different readings may be present in Rosetti’s Goblin market, the first impression I personally got of the poem was that Rosetti was possibly describing the temptations surrounding the then ‘taboo’ notion of homosexual desire. Other interpretations see the characters as representative of religious allegories – Rosetti was a practising Christian. This made sense, but my feeling that there must be a deeper, hidden meaning to the piece led me to question the extent of which we can apply a modern reading to a period text.

The Victorians as we know them were a rigid, ‘moral’ people – the British ‘stiff upper lip’ ideology came from them. If this was the case, how could Rosetti even think to write about sexuality, let alone ‘abominable’ homosexuality, when she lived in a world where such things must not be discussed? Surely any intimacy she described in her work had to be purely innocent, right?

Maybe not. While I don’t know everything there is to know about the Victorians just yet, I do know this: they were human. That is something that the Victorians and us have in common. My question, therefore, is this: am I looking at ‘Goblin Market’ through the bias of modern perspective, or does the fact that we live in a modern society make these possibly ‘taboo’ messages more obvious?

If you’re interested in learning more about Victorian sexuality and sexual repression, Jan Marsh wrote an interesting article on the subject for the Victoria and Albert Museum website:  http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/sex-and-sexuality-19th-century/

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