During the Nineteenth Century, women and men’s roles became very defined throughout this era. Men used to commute to work in factories or in coal mines whereas women would stay at home to do domestic work because they were considered the weaker gender. As well as this, women were unable to vote during this time because their job was to cater for the next generation of life. Therefore, since women had so much of an impact on domestic life, this was an argument used against them to not allow them to vote; placing women in a lower tier than men. It was not until women received an education that they were impressing men with their educational accomplishments instead of their domestic skills. In the male eye, it was considered “unfeminine” and a “turn off” for women to have a naturally higher intelligence than men. Two female poets who received extraordinary education and took pride in their educational accomplishments were Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This essay will aim to critically analyse the poems “Bertha in the Lane” and “Goblin Market” about how both poems feature a physically weaker female role where the woman is both the victim and perpetrator that succumbs to a dominant, more masculine figure.
“Bertha in the Lane” is a remarkable poem written by Browning which captivates the end of her relationship with both her fiancé and younger sister and pushes her into the life of spinsterhood. Throughout the entire poem, Browning blames her sister for being responsible for taking her fiancé but never once blames the fiancé. In fact, the fiancé is never seen in the poem but seen as a mere object of desire for both women. One see’s that he never interacts with them in verse twenty-seven, he just leaves the women to interact with themselves, ‘Yet who plucks me? —no one mourns, / I have lived my season out,/ And now die of my own thorn/ Which I could not live without./ Sweet, be merry! How the light! /Comes and goes! If it be night, /Keep the candles in my sight.’ (Browning, 183-189). Therefore, making both sisters the victims and perpetrators of the husband. Furthermore, this was the social death of her life causing Elizabeth to pursue a life of spinsterhood since her younger sister stole her husband. The younger sister knows that she is doing to her old sister by taking away her husband from her; nowhere does it say that it is the man’s fault for leaving Elizabeth for her younger sister, it was just a natural thing that happened with men in that time, picking a younger, more beautiful woman. Since Elizabeth is compelled to a life of spinsterhood, she writes about sacrificing herself for womankind, juxtaposed to Jesus sacrificing himself to mankind because Jesus is the only person that can understand her pain as he was the ultimate sacrifice for mankind and Elizabeth believes it would make her the ultimate sacrifice for womenkind; “Jesus, Victim, comprehending/ Love’s divine self-abnegation, /Cleanse my love in its self-spending, / And absorb the poor libation! /Wind my thread of life up higher, /Up, through angels’ hands of fire! /I aspire while I expire.” (Browning, 231-238). Furthermore, it is not that Elizabeth should blame her sister for the life of spinsterhood, it is that her husband cursed her to the life for being the weaker gender both physically and sexually, juxtaposed to the superior masculine dominance he had over both sisters.
“The Goblin Market” is a long narrative poem that has two sisters that are tempted by a fruit that is offered up to them by a Goblin. The fruit that the Goblin sells can be conveyed as a fruit that condemns sexual temptation and can make a woman fall for the masculine ways and potentially ruin a marriage; in this case, it would be Laura who has tasted the fruit sold by the Goblin. One could compare that Laura’s addiction to this fruit is juxtaposed to people’s addiction to opium during the Victorian Era. Once tasting the fruit, one could believe that it could start homoerotic fiction between the two since Lizzie insists that Laura “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices” (Rossetti, 468). Although Rossetti could convey a potential homoerotic relationship between Lizzie and Laura because, “Rossetti’s economics of sex and marriage is primarily an economics of consumption” (Helsinger, 904). Therefore, the more fruit that the two consume the more they will want to engage in sexual behaviour with each other and other male suitors. Since buying the fruit from the merchants, the Goblins could be rapacious suitors that are luring the women towards them because they have so much wealth to offer these young women by letting them have a “taste” of their fruit. Later in the poem, there seems to be a hint of sexual violence due to the way the Goblins treat Lizzie, “They trod and hustled her,/ Elbow’d and jostled her,/ Claw’d with their nails,/Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,/Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking” (Rossetti, 400-403). Hence, the Goblins gang raping which confesses that there is harsh sexual violence against Lizzie. Furthermore, enforcing that the male masculinity had more dominance over the female femininity during the Victorian Era.