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Sisterhood and addiction in poignant Goblin Market

10 July, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

CHRISTINA Rossetti’s narrative poem, Goblin Market, in a superlative audio adaption by Jessica Dromgoole, is a cautionary tale of two sisters, Laura (Kathleen Cranham) and Lizzie (Anjana Vasan, pictured) escaping the bewitchment of goblins. As they draw water from the stream, they hear the goblins’ song, tempting them with baskets of luscious fruit.

One evening Laura, who is the more curious and has the sweeter tooth, tarries alone to talk to the strange little men with animal attributes: Laura stared but did not stir/ Long’d but had no money/ The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste/ In tones as smooth as honey/ The cat-faced purr’d/ The rat-faced spoke a word…

Laura succumbs and agrees to pay with a lock of her golden hair. She gorges herself on the fruit in a sensual frenzy: Sweeter than honey from the rock / Stronger than man-rejoicing wine/ Clearer than water flow’d that juice.

Goblin Market has been read as both a children’s fairy tale and an erotic fantasy for adults. Instead, Dromgoole’s focuses on the themes of sisterhood and addiction. She brings Rossetti’s 1861 poem bang up to date by interweaving passages, narrated by Ellie Piercy, with real-life stories of sisters today who have suffered the debilitating effects of addiction.

In Georgia Catt’s documentary strand, various women describe the agony of witnessing their siblings’ dependence, and the patterns of self-destructive behaviour that emerge, despite their best efforts to help them.

Particularly poignant is the story of 31-year Amy from Cardiff, who watched her beloved older sister Carys fade away, fatally ravaged by alcoholism, over seven years.

In the light of these testimonies, Laura’s agonised wait for the goblin men to return so she can partake once more of their honeyed fruit carries a particular resonance: Day after day, night after night / Laura kept watch in vain / In sullen silence of exceeding pain / She never caught again the goblin cry / “Come buy, come buy.”

Fortunately, for Laura, the actions of her quick-witted sister prove her salvation. But sadly for some there is no miraculous recovery or happy ending when dealing with addiction.

  • BBC Radio 4, July 11, 3pm.


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