Goblin Market has been one of my favorite poems for a long time. I actually quote part of it in my upcoming YA, Innocent Darkness. Goblin Market is an incredible Victorian poem full of double meaning. Today I have invited my friend Cassandra Joffre, antiquarian book dealer for Dragon Books to tell us more about it.
“Goblin Market” — a booksellers point of view
by Cassandra Joffre
“She cried ‘Laura,’ up the garden,
‘Did you miss me? Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises, hug me, kiss me, suck my juices,
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me…”
My first encounter with “Goblin Market” was in my AP English class in high school. I was about 16 or so – just old enough to realize that there was some deeper meaning to the poem, but not quite old enough to really grasp what that meaning was. It left me uneasy – I had a vague notion that something sexual was being hinted at, and that they weren’t really talking about fruit and goblins, but my sixteen-year-old self just couldn’t believe that we would be reading something sexy in English, especially since the last book we read for class was the Odyssey.
It has been seventeen years (really??) since that English class, and I now find myself working as a rare book dealer- the absolute greatest job I can possibly think of (besides being an astronaut maybe). All kinds of amazing books and manuscripts pass through my hands, ranging from medieval illuminated manuscripts and Shakespeare folios, to signed first editions by Charles Darwin and Ernest Hemingway. I literally see and learn something new everyday, and when I am eighty I may just have learned enough to finally get the nerve to audition for Jeopardy! I never know what new books I will find, and I had pretty much forgotten about “Goblin Market” until about three years ago, when we purchased a collection of books on drugs and erotica that included a first edition of Goblin Market and Other Poems. In the original blue ribbed-cloth binding with gold rules to the covers and gold lettering on the spine, the book runs anywhere from $1,200-$3,000, depending on the condition.
First printed in London in 1862 during the height of the Victorian era, it became Rossetti’s best-known book of poems, the book is now considered one of the most important nineteenth century volumes of poetry to be written by a woman. To the modern reader, the subject matter seems shocking given our view of the Victorian era as prudish and repressed. With its subtly erotic undertones, its thinly veiled allusions to drug addiction and rape, and its at times confusing themes of sisterly love and sacrifice, it truly is one of the most seductive and haunting poems of any period.
Born in 1830, Rossetti was the daughter of the Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti and the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet, artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. At the age of fourteen, she had a mental breakdown, which some biographers believe was the result of sexual abuse, possibly at the hands of her father. She was plagued with debilitating bouts of depression for the rest of her life, and often sought solace in religion. She became increasingly devout, and even turned down two marriage proposals because of religious differences. She wrote Goblin Market when she was thirty-one years old, unmarried and living with her mother.
Since its publication, there have been over twenty-two different illustrators for “Goblin Market”, including Laurence Housman, Hilary Paynter, Willy Pogany, Dion Clayton Calthrop and Margaret Tarrant. The first, and my favorite, was Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His illustrations are still what I picture when I think of the poem, with his slightly masculine but strikingly beautiful and sensual women, and his goblins in the shape of little animal-men.
Probably the most famous and collectible illustrator for “Goblin Market” is Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Rackham was extremely prolific, illustrating numerous books of fairy tales, but also the works of Shakespeare and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. His illustrations have an ethereal quality, the result of a special three color printing technique he was fond of using. They truly are beautiful – you can expect to pay around $3,000 for a signed limited edition (1933) – $36,000 will get you a deluxe limited edition with an original watercolor by Rackham laid in.
Prior to Rackham’s edition of “Goblin Market,” the poem was never really intended for children, and in fact Rossetti said as much in a letter to her publisher. Perhaps because most of Rackham’s illustrations had been primarily for children’s books, the “Goblin Market” has apparently ever since been considered a children’s poem! I didn’t really believe people when they told me this, until recently. At a bookfair a few months ago, I found (and bought for $35) an edition of “Goblin Market” illustrated by Ellen Raskin. The illustrations are definitely intended for children, and while Raskin edited many of the verses (including the one I quote at the beginning of this post), I still find it ridiculous that anyone would consider this to be a poem for children!
Whoever the intended audience is, the influence that the poem has had on poetry, art and film (Guillermo Del Toro is said to have drawn inspiration from it for his films “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”) are undeniable. The poem’s ongoing popularity proves that sex and drugs never go out of style!