Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market” & The Limits We Are Willing To Go.
Goblin Market is a narrative poem, penned by Christina Rossetti in 1862 (Damrosch & Dettmar, pg. 1643). This particular piece is considered to be her greatest work by many, and it has best withstood the test of time. As is often the case with historically significant poems, Goblin Market’s quick rise to popularity can primarily be attributed to Rossetti’s challenging the societal constraints of the era. Despite unwavering claims of her writing being a children’s story, the work elicited controversial reactions in Victorian England. This was a period of sexual suppression for women, leading many to consider certain elements of Rossetti’s writing as taboo (Lagrange, pg. 83). While understanding the historical context of her work is significant, and could be a paper of its own, it is only supplemental information for the topic of this discussion. We will be examining the modern influence of Goblin Market, specifically the parallels between Christina Rossetti’s masterpiece and the 2011 film, Limitless.
Although there is no published evidence to support the argument that the basis of Limitless is a poetic work nearly 150 years its senior, an abundance of commonalities suggest this to be the case. However, one interesting inconsistency is the absence of sexual themes, comparatively, in the film. This allows for a new perspective on Rossetti’s piece. In stripping away the overwhelming distraction of sexuality, Limitless allows us to dig further. The modern adaptation highlights the less apparent elements of human nature, such as desire, greed, temptation, dependence, and desperation, all of which often go overlooked in Goblin Market.
The part of Eddie Mora, the movie’s protagonist, is played by Bradley Cooper. Ironically, Eddie is a struggling writer. The beginning illustrates the suffocating forces of life: The intersection of publisher deadlines and procrastination, falling further behind on rent with each day, and, finally, Eddie’s fiancé leaving him in frustration with his stagnant lifestyle. This is where the similarities between the writer and Goblin Market’s Laura begin. With Eddie on the brink of taking his own life, we are introduced to the “goblin” of his story. Vernon, who happens to be the brother of the former fiance, is a drug dealer with a ground-breaking prescription drug. The drug, NZT, offers access to “the 80% of the human brain that we don’t use”(Limitless). Vernon provides a more relatable representation of the goblins, now appealing to an audience who associates substance abuse with submitting to the pressure of temptation. However, some interpretations, such as Gaynell Galt’s, suggest that highlighting the danger of such substances may have been Rossetti’s underlying intention all along (Galt, pg. 86).
Needless to say, Eddie tries the one pill he reluctantly accepted from Vernon and he is hooked. Overwhelming, euphoric levels of productivity allow him to complete his book, organize his life, and satisfy other desires he did not even realize he had, all in one afternoon. However, bearing a striking resemblance to the story of Laura, Eddie only wants more. Both Goblin Market and Limitless illustrate this underlying lesson on human tendencies. The power of temptation grows with every battle it wins and, once the forbidden fruit has been tasted, each attempt to resist will be tougher than the last. This shows how dependence can occur, the inevitable result of fully conceding to temptation.
In Goblin Market, Laura has a slightly different introduction to her forbidden fruit, as it is not handed to her. The goblins convinced her to try their fruit, but she was penniless. They replied, stating “you have much gold upon your head, buy from us with a golden curl” (Rossetti, pg. 1653). Another notable contrast to the modern film is that this is the only taste Laura acquires herself. This is due to the debilitating withdrawals she suffers from following the initial taste. After returning home, she is warned by her sister, Lizzie, of the dangers of the goblin fruit. Lizzie recounts the story of their friend Jeanie, who ate the fruit and died from her withdrawals.
Eddie Mora’s NZT experience is almost identical to Laura’s struggle with the addictive fruit. He had also been penniless, similarly suffering at the hands of addiction. Following his first taste, Eddie essentially became the errand boy for Vernon. The only value to his name was his ability to work. And, luckily, he happened upon the Vernon’s stash following his murder. With the seemingly endless amount of pills, Eddie quickly developed a severe addiction to the drug. Blinded by this addiction, he had no regard for the negative effects it could have on him. This was until he reached out to his former fiance, Lindy, who it turns out had also been using. Just as Lizzie warned Laura of the potentially fatal side-effects of the fruit, Lindy tries to prepare Eddie for the worst. She urges him to ween himself off of NZT, before he runs out. Lindy also alludes to the fact that almost all of Vernon’s former customers have passed away due to withdrawals, no different than Jeanie in Rossetti’s poem.
The closing scenes of Goblin Market and Limitless also share common themes. The most obvious of these would be the lengths to which Eddie and Lizzie are willing to go in order to avoid untimely death. Lizzie’s case is slightly different however, as she is not the one who has given into temptation. Unable to watch her sister suffer, Lizzie seeks out the goblins to purchase more of the fruit. They torture her with the fruit, attempting to force her to eat it. Following her suffering she returns to her sick sister, instructing Laura to eat the remnants of fruit from her face. “Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, hug me, kiss me, suck my juices” (Rossetti, pg. 1661). Laura does as her sister asks, almost coming back to life as she laps it up. A strong comparison can be made here by examining the desperation of the respective addicts. Similarly to Laura, Eddie is incapacitated and too weak to obtain the drug he needs to live. He is stuck on the floor, staring at a collection of pills across the room, but lacks the energy to do as much as crawl. Two addicts had just attacked him hoping to find more NZT, but they now lay dead beside him. As the pool of blood flows towards him, Eddie realizes that the red liquid represents one last chance at a new lease on life if he is willing to stoop low enough. Choosing to do so, he rolls over and drinks the blood, giving him the NZT he needed.
In Eddie’s case, he uses the money he made while on the drug to fund private research, eliminating his side effects and providing an endless supply. In a clip from the future he is shown healthy and happy, back to the “perfect” version of himself. Rossetti concludes Laura’s struggle with a positive tone as well. She is nursed back to health by her sister and awakes as if nothing occurred. In a mention of the distant future, Laura and Lizzie are described as wives and mothers, telling their children of the goblin men. Overall, the evidence provided fully supports the theory that an indirect correlation exists between Limitless and Goblin Market. If nothing else, it is safe to say the modern film was heavily influenced by Christina Rossetti’s work.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: 4th ed, vol. 2B, edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar et. al., Pearson Education, Inc. 2010, pp. 1650-1663.