‘Goblin Market’ remains Rossetti’s most-studied poem, yet has presented problems for critics since its publication. An early reviewer asked, “Is it a fable – or a mere fairy story – or an allegory against the pleasures of sinful love – or what is it?” In this paper, I shall discuss how a poem which was arguably constructed from elements of multifarious sources created its own world which drew readers in and opened up to a wide variety of interpretations. In the late twentieth century, it was the aesthetics of faery, of landscape and primarily of Gothic, which prevailed in interpretations of the work. While serious critics comment on the religious, moral and typological aspects of the poem, it is the alternative aspects of this constructed world, such as fairytale and vampirism which have elicited the most creative responses. My paper will consider two of these responses, and examine the elements of ‘Goblin Market’ which have made such diverse interpretations possible. The illustrative work of the Japanese artist Kinuko Craft has tapped into a dark vein in the work. Appearing in Playboy in 1973 as part of their “Ribald Classics”, ‘Goblin Market’ was presented as “a nursery classic” and a “pornographic classic”. By juxtaposing the visual and the verbal, the poem appears as indicative of repressed Victorian sexuality. This is perhaps explained best by Deborah Cherry and Griselda Pollock:
In these decades [the 1960s and 1970s], the Victorian era became a site for the
renegotiation of definitions of sexuality. It was characterized as a period of
public virtue and private vice, of sexual hypocrisy, an age of prudery and
respectability with a hidden underside of perversion, pornography and
The illustrations are loosely based on those by Arthur Rackham, but draw on the sexually charged language Rossetti uses in her poem. I propose to examine how Craft draws this out in nuanced illustrations which gesture towards Victorian art, whilst appearing in Playboy.
Recent literary criticism is beginning to attempt reconstruction of the original world Rossetti created, but an alternative space has opened up between critical and creative responses. My paper will explore the aspects of Rossetti’s poem which have attracted an interpretative response, and demonstrate the differing aspect of these two interpretations of ‘Goblin Market’.