Christina Rossetti: Lizzie becomes Laura
Often, it is said, “life imitates art.” In many ways, some by design and others mere happenstance, the reverse applies to the life of Christina Rossetti and her poem, Goblin Market. There are many events characteristics of the poem’s main characters, Lizzie and Laura, which resemble those in Rossetti’s own life both before and after she wrote it.
The premise of the poem, the close relationship of sisters, Lizzie and Laura, follows that of Christina and her sister, Maria. According to her Wikipedia page, Rossetti became closest with her sister during her adolescence after a period of depression. Along with their mother, it is during this time that the sisters became deeply involved in the spread of the Anglican movement. It’s likely this devotion to her religion that informs Lizzie virtue. Lizzie’s refusal to partake of the “evil gifts” offered by the goblins is a display of Rossetti’s own devotion to what she views as the ideal way of life. Rossetti further displays this devotion later as she rejects the advances of three potential suitors. One can easily infer that it’s also this tarnished view of the opposite sex which lands the goblins, who represent men, being described as “cross-grained, uncivil,” with “evil looks.”
Just as some of her early experiences informed aspects of her writing, some aspects of it also seem to foreshadow Rosetti’s health issues later in life. In Goblin Market, after partaking of the goblin fruit, Laura begins to lose her beauty, acquiring “sunk eyes and faded mouth” and her hair becoming “thin and gray.” As it turns out, later in her life, Rossetti would suffer from Grave’s disease. Though the symptoms tend to be far worse than those of Laura’s affliction, it is interesting that the two run parallel. Both even recover shortly and turn to their efforts living a better life. Rossetti becomes a much more religiously inspired writer. Her story differs from Laura’s, however, in that Rossetti was plagued by various other illnesses, until finally, in 1894, she died of cancer.
Despite her integration of her faith and sisterhood into one of her most iconic works by way of Lizzie, one has to wonder how Goblin Market would have been told if Rossetti had written it toward the end of her life. Given her later tendency to regard life as a dark and painful experience because of her own such dark and painful experiences with illness, it is entirely likely that Laura’s fate could have been much different. Or, perhaps, the bonds she had created with her siblings and family would have inspired a similar moral for the story. “For there is no friend like a sister.”
Rosetti, Christina. “Goblin Market,” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 1650-1663. Print.
“Christina Rossetti.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.