Editorial Introduction to Goblin Market

Goblin Market appeared as the title poem of Christina Rossetti’s first commercially published volume of verse, Goblin Market and Other Poems (Macmillan 1862). Almost immediately, this narrative poem was recognized as a significant achievement, despite the ambiguity of its genre and meaning. Critics assigned the poem to various generic categories, the number and variety of which increased over the following decades and throughout the twentieth century. Early on it was often viewed as a fairy tale or an allegory (sometimes compared to Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner).  By late in the nineteenth century, readers, reviewers, illustrators, and composers began to focus on the poem’s powerful aesthetic qualities.  Its sensuous image patterns, religious images, unique prosodic qualities, and social implications inspired school study and recitation as well as musical settings and performances. The power of its visual images, and the two wood-engraved designs by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that accompanied the poem’s first publication, evoked numerous artistic interpretations, from stained glass windows to gift books. When Goblin Market went out of copyright in the early twentieth century, it became a popular reprint in the juvenile market, often featuring colored pictures of the girls and the goblins in lush outdoor settings. These new editions contributed to the posthumous categorization of Rossetti as a children’s writer.

In the second half of the twentieth century Goblin Market appealed to new cultural developments in psychology and sociology, and the poem’s sororal and maternal relationships, along with its sexual overtones, became foregrounded in critical analysis. New illustrated editions highlighted the erotic meanings evoked by Rossetti’s multivalent metaphors. One such version appeared in the 1970s in Playboy magazine; in the 1980s Pacific Comics, a graphic fantasy publication for adult readers, similarly visualized the poem’s sexual themes. With the rise of feminist criticism coinciding with the publication of Rebecca Crump’s variorum edition of Rossetti’s Complete Poems, Goblin Market received renewed attention. Feminist critics analyzed the poem’s embedded social commentary, its perspective(s) on gender relations, and its claim that “there is no friend like a sister.” Historicist critics elaborated the poem’s economic dimensions, which pit “goblin merchant men” against the sisters. Rossetti’s most famous work has also been placed in dialogue with contemporary Victorian discourses, including those relating to the Oxford Movement in the Anglican church; the reclamation of “fallen women”; and the Pre-Raphaelite effort to combine literature and art to express the spiritual in the sensuous.

Annotations for the COVE Goblin Market

The annotations and commentary that appear in the COVE online edition of Goblin Market encompass all these and more approaches to Rossetti’s narrative poem. They are the work of an international team of eight current Rossetti scholars, who have incorporated the notes on the poem supplied by her brother William Michael, Rossetti’s first editor, into their own annotations. The editorial aim for this digital edition of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market is to provide an authoritative text of the poem, with critical commentary that falls into five categories: linguistic, textual, historical, cultural, and interpretative. Linguistic tags gloss words not in common usage. Textual tags call out substantive variants in Rossetti’s original manuscript as identified in Rebecca Crump’s variorum edition. Biographical information is tagged using the historical category, while Victorian values, beliefs, and practices (such as  imperialism, or the reclamation of “fallen” women) are tagged in the cultural category. The largest category is the interpretative one. The interpretative filter includes notes on critical reception and visual and musical responses to Rossetti’s poem; and glosses on  intertextual allusions, symbols, figurative language, and prosody. Sometimes these categories of commentary overlap or involve extensions.  For instance, a poetic line might be tagged both “interpretative” and “cultural,” and provide commentary on both published criticism and Victorian concerns with prostitution; it may also include a pop-up window featuring a related art work from an illustrated edition of the text.  These categories are color coded so that a reader interested, for instance, primarily in linguistic issues in the poem, can readily locate all instances of relevant commentary and reference. Further, each instance of a color-coded comment bears the annotator’s name and the category or categories into which it falls.

A Note on the Text

The source-text used for the COVE Edition is derived from the most recent authoritative edition of Goblin Market, that printed in Volume 1 of R.W. Crump’s variorum edition, The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti (3 vols., 1979-90).  However, dozens of editions of the poem have appeared in print in the years between its first appearance in 1862 and Crump’s edition.  The most important ones are listed below this Introduction. The proliferation of these editions suggests how the general trajectory of Rossetti criticism and commentary is of real historical interest.  

Important Editions of Goblin Market

1862    Goblin Market and Other Poems. Illustrated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: Macmillan.

1893    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Laurence Housman. London: Macmillan.

1904    Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti. Ed. William Michael Rossetti. London: Macmillan.

1906    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Dion Clayton Calthrop. London: T. C. and E. C. Jack.

1907    Goblin Market and Other Poems. Gowans' International Library no. 7. London: Gowans and Gray.

[1909?]    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Willy Pogány. London: George G. Harrap.

1910    Poems by Christina Rossetti. Illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie and Son.

1910    Goblin Market and Other Poems. Illustrated by Alice Ross. London: W. P. Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell.

1912     Goblin Market. Illustrated by Margaret Tarrant. London: Routledge.

1912    Goblin Market. Blackie's English Classics. Ed. Edith Fry. Illustrated by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie and Son.

1931    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Sheila Thompson. Middleton, Sussex: The Silver Unicorn Press.

1933    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London: George G. Harrap.

1938    Goblin Market. Illustrated by Dorothy M. Wheeler. In The Favourite Wonder Book, 737-45. London: Odhams Press.

1969    Doves and Pomegranates: Poems for Young Readers. Illustrated by Margery Gill. London: The Bodley Head.

1970    Goblin Market. Illustrated and adapted by Ellen Raskin. New York: E. P. Dutton.

1973    "Goblin Market: Ribald Classic." Illustrated by Kinuko Craft. Playboy 20.9: 115-19.

1975    Goblin Market. With an Introduction by Germaine Greer. Illustrated by Laurence Housman. New York: Stonehill.

1979-1990    The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti. Ed. R. W. Crump. Variorum ed. 3 vols. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

1980    Goblin Market. Illustrated with Etchings by Martin Ware. London: Victor Gollancz.

1981    Goblin Market. Illustrated by George Gershinowitz. Boston: David R. Godine.

1984    Goblin Market. Illustrated by John Bolton. Pacific Comics: Pathways to Fantasy 1.1: 9-18.

1986    Christina Rossetti. The Illustrated Poets Series. Ed. Peter Porter. London: Aurum Press.

1997    Goblin Market: A Tale of Two Sisters. Afterword by Joyce Carol Oates. Illustrated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and Laurence Housman. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.