Christina Rossetti’s Outlook on Prostitution and Redemption in the Victorian Era
Prostitution is typically not the first thought that arises when one thinks of Victorian England. It is indeed a period marked by substantial innovations including transportation, industrialism, and literature. Nevertheless, this era was also marked by rigid social stratification, leading many women into prostitution to survive the harsh conditions of poverty. In her poem “Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti addresses the plight of fallen women through sexual imagery and unlike her prudish Victorian counterparts, asserts that through the compassion of another, these women can find redemption.
“She clipped a precious golden lock, she dropped a tear more rare than pearl, the sucked their fruit globes fair and red: sweeter than honey from the rock” (1653). It is in this erotic scene in which young Laura “drop[s] a tear more rare than pear” in return for the goblins fruit that Rossetti alludes to strong images of prostitution. Because Laura fails to have the money required to obtain the goblin fruit, she instead gives her body for payment. Laura’s exchange resembles the unfortunate predicament of many women in the Victorian era particularly ones belonging to the lower class. Furthermore, Rossetti refers to the social belief that prostitutes are inoperable members of society as seen in Laura’s behavior after the exchange. “She no more swept the house, tended the fowls or cows, fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat, brought water from the brook: but sat down listless in the chimney-nook and would not eat” (1657). It is here that Rossetti addresses the damning views harbored by the upper class regarding the roles these women play in society. Considering Victorian mores were couched in religion, class, and sexual repression, prostitutes were generally held in low regard and typically thought to be useless members of society who were neither productive for themselves or their country.
While society holds these women in contempt, Rossetti asserts her belief that even the fallen women of society can be redeemed through acts of compassion in place of degradation. Toward the end of the poem, Rossetti grants Laura her redemption via the love of her sister Lizzie. “She cried Laura, up the garden, did you miss me? Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, hug me, kiss me, such my juices, squeezed from the goblin fruits for you” (1661). Here Lizzie cannot stand to see Laura’s dilapidated state any longer and journeys out in an attempt to save her, bearing the brutalities of the goblins herself in order to help her sister. In the end, Laura is redeemed from her fallen state and proceeds in life in a normal manner with a husband and children. Laura’s redemption alludes back to Rossetti’s personal life in which she volunteered at a fallen womens shelter to provide assistance in the rehabilitation of prostitutes. Her experience at the institution is undoubtedly a motivation in her work and provides merit to her assertion that if shown compassion and consideration by society, fallen women can indeed make a change and fit into societal molds.
“Christina Rossetti.” The Poetry Foundation. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
Rossetti, 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.