Goblin Market


Christina Rossetti

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Each morning and evening young women hear the cry of the goblin men, who seductively describe the fruits they’re selling and urge the young women to “come buy.” One evening, sisters Laura and Lizzie hear the goblins’ call while visiting a brook to draw water. They grow fearful and crouch down to hide themselves. Lizzie warns Laura not to look and covers her own eyes for protection, but the incurably curious Laura looks directly at the goblins. Laura describes the goblin men’s odd movements and wonders where the luscious and unusual fruit they’re selling might have grown. Still, Lizzie is steadfast in her refusal to look and warns Laura once again that the goblin men mean to harm them. Lizzie then puts her fingers in her ears to block the sound of the goblins’ cries and runs away, leaving Laura on her own.

Laura chooses to stay and watch the goblins. She notices that they share physical characteristics with animals, including doves, rats, wombats, and cats, and have kind, pleasant voices. Fascinated, she stretches her neck toward them. The goblins approach Laura and seem delighted to find her alone. Laura wants to buy their fruit but has no money to offer in exchange. The goblins take a lock of Laura’s hair as payment instead, and she then begins ravenously eating the fruit.

After gorging herself, Laura gathers up a fruit pit and, in a state of bewilderment, returns home to find her sister waiting up for her. Lizzie scolds Laura for staying out so late and reminds her of the fate of Jeanie, a young woman who, like Laura, accepted fruit from the goblins. After eating the fruit, Jeanie was abandoned by the goblins, pined away, and died. Now, no flowers will grow on her grave. Laura tries to reassure her sister, promising to bring back fruit from the goblins for Lizzie to try. Laura describes the fruit as otherworldly and unbelievably delicious. The two sisters go to sleep enfolded in one another’s arms.

The next evening, when Laura and Lizzie return to the brook to draw water, Laura tries to delay their departure so that she might meet the goblins again. But try as she might, she cannot hear their calls. This greatly distresses Laura, who fears that she will never again eat the goblin fruit that she craves. The sisters return home, but Laura’s heart aches. They go to bed, and Laura gnashes her teeth and weeps as she grieves for the lost fruit.

Days pass, and Laura pines for the fruit. She listens in the hopes of once more hearing the goblins, but she never again hears their cry. In her despair, Laura’s hair begins to turn gray and she ages prematurely. One day, she remembers the fruit pit she took back with her after first meeting the goblins. Although she plants it in a sunny spot and waters it with her tears, it never grows. Laura becomes listless, refusing to perform her household duties or to eat. The once-active Laura now spends her days sitting by the chimney nook.

Fearing that Laura will die, Lizzie resolves to find the goblins and purchase some fruit for her sister. Lizzie knows that she will be putting herself in danger, but she nevertheless puts a silver coin in her purse and goes to the brook at twilight. For the first time, she actively listens and looks for the goblins.

The goblins are delighted to find Lizzie looking for them. They hug, kiss, and caress her as they try to tempt her to eat their fruit. Lizzie tosses them a coin, but the goblins try to persuade her to stay and eat with them. She refuses, saying she must return home to her sister, and asks for her penny back if they will not sell their fruit. At this, the goblins become furious and begin to attack Lizzie. They call her proud and uncivil, stamp on her feet, scratch her, pull her hair out, and try to squeeze the fruit against her mouth to make her eat it. Yet despite the viciousness of the goblins’ attack, Lizzie refuses to give in. Finally, the goblins realize their efforts are futile and they toss back her penny before departing, leaving Lizzie alone with the fruit juices dripping down her face.

In a daze, Lizzie runs home. She calls out to her sister and tells her to drink the juice from her face. Laura is horrified at first, fearing that Lizzie has eaten the fruit herself. Yet as Laura begins to tastes the now-bitter juice, she behaves as if she is possessed, leaping, singing, tearing her robe, wringing her hands, and beating her breast. She loses consciousness and falls down.

Lizzie keeps watch over Laura throughout the night, checking her pulse and breathing, giving her water, and fanning her to keep her cool. By the time Laura wakes at dawn, a transformation has taken place. Laura’s youth is restored along, and she embraces her sister. Years later, when Laura and Lizzie are both wives and mothers, Laura warns their children about the predatory goblin men and their dangerous fruit. More importantly, she shares the story of how her sister braved the goblin men to save her.