Student Research Projects

The Attraction and Repulsion of the Goblins in Christina Rossetti's “Goblin Market”

Student Abigail Putnam '15 (English)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course English 489: Senior Thesis Workshop


Out of the poem “Goblin Market’s” depths rise strange figures, half man, half human, tempting young maids and readers alike in their mysterious origins and hidden intentions. They call out, offering their magical, yet addictive, fruits, “Come buy, come buy,” and they at once terrify and beckon (Rossetti 71). Rossetti’s narrative style poem, written in stanzas of rhymed couplets, lulls the reader in its repetition and enforces a spirit of whimsy behind the language. The goblins haunt the text and drive the plot. They set the tone of the verse and give the poem its sense of foreboding as well as its sense of other-worldliness. They terrify while they simultaneously fascinate, creating a pull in the reader and complex ambiguity in the poem. This is accomplished through Julia Kristeva’s theory of abject: “What disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” (Kristeva 4). This upsetting of borders also creates what Kristeva calls jouissance, the fascination and joy in the abject. In this way, the goblins terrify and magnetize, causing jouissance in both the sisters in the poem and the reader. One cannot escape the horrors of the goblins, and one is simultaneously sickened and fascinated by them.