Think those Victorians were all stuffy? Well, here’s a read for you: Deborah Lutz‘s Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism. It’s a rich text which I shan’t attempt to review here. Instead I’ll dwell on one little thing it brought to my attention which by itself made the book worth its purchase price.

In 1862 Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) a distinguished poetess and sister to the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti published a volume called Goblin Market and Other Poems. The title poem (you can find the whole text here) was about two sisters Lizzie and Laura who would sleep

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.

All very innocent, I’m sure. Here is the cover illustration by brother Dante Gabriel.

cover art for the goblin market

Unfortunately not all is well, for goblin men with succulent fruits and tempt Laura. Paying the goblin men with a precious lock of her golden hair, Laura goes, well, hog-wild.

She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,
Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow’d that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather’d up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone.

“Suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more.” Obviously this cannot be good because hey girl, it’s the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Queen Victoria and FEMALE PLEASURE BAD!

And of course Laura promptly starts wasting away, unable to hear the call of the goblin men anymore or get any fruits. But fortunately redemption is available in the form of an act of sacrifice by heroic sister Lizzie, who seeks out the goblin men, silver coin in purse, to buy more fruits. The goblin men try to force fruit into her mouth and basically beat her up but Lizzie resists to run home covered in juice and declare to her sister

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
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”

Redeemed by this act, both sisters can now grow into proper womanhood. I am not making this stuff up, people. This was children’s literature from 150 years ago, but today — and not just for people who read ErosBlog — it feels almost impossible to read it as such. Which I guess goes to show that certain kinds of innocence really do go out of the world. (Playboy in 1973 apparently redid Goblin Market with rather ribald illustrations, but I have been unable to find usable pictorial excerpts.)

Thank you, Professor Lutz! And I’ve barely even gotten to all the stuff about Algernon Charles Swinburne yet…