It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young lady of good breeding must be in want of a goblin. I'm just kidding. As far as I know, Jane Austen never mentioned goblins in any of her novels. But several other writers since then have pondered this question at some length.
Christina Rossetti, in her famous poem 'Goblin Market', portrays young women who are fatally unable to resist the lure of a goblin. It's a poem laden with repressed sexual desire that bubbles over in the form of a lengthy warning to young ladies about the attractiveness of men or face the terrible consequences.
Christina Rossetti's descriptions of the goblins' activities, offering fruit to young ladies to tempt them, can be seen as a simple metaphor. The temptation of forbidden fruit is right there. To the extent that the goblins are images representing working men, carrying boxes of fruit to sell, there is also the potential for a class-based analysis of the poem.
Christina Rossetti isn't the only female poet to write about goblins. Hidden away in Sylvia Plath's Juvenilia is The Princess and the Goblins. The poem is a simple retelling of Victorian writer George MacDonald's novel of almost the same name.
The young Plath does not address whether human and goblin could be happy together. She is more interested to focus on Irene's flight from danger. However, George MacDonald's vivid portrait of the goblin king's wife provides evidence that a goblin/human marriage could be happy.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald details the explorations of eight-year-old Princess Irene and her friend Curdie in the mountain tunnels behind her home. It is a children's novel with some appeal to adults due to the fantasy universe in which it is set.
The goblin king and his second wife set their minions to dig through the rock from their caverns and snatch the princess, intending to marry Irene to the king's heir. Their attempts are frequent and spirited and Irene has to fall back upon her own good sense, Curdie's singing (which the goblins detest) and the tender care of her magical godmother to escape their clutches.
The goblin king's first wife was human. She died in childbirth. Second time around, the goblin king married one of his own kind. This goblin queen can certainly hold her own in the midst of battle:
Her face streaming with blood, and her eyes flashing green lightning through it, she came on with her mouth open and her teeth grinning like a tiger's, followed by the king and her bodyguard of the thickest goblins.
But it is clear that the goblin king's first marriage was by far the happier:
'Did she die very soon? They didn't tease her to death?'
'Oh, dear no! The king worshipped her very footmarks.'
'What made her die then? Didn't the air agree with her?'
'She died when the young prince was born.'
The same fate has already claimed Irene's mother. It seems that the adoration of a royal husband could not prevent such a tragedy befalling a marriage, regardless of whether he was a goblin or a man.
Even if they differed about whether the marriage would be a happy one, Christina Rossetti and George MacDonald would certainly have agreed on the continuing fascination royal women feel for goblin men. Something of the kind, albeit in an arena of modern realism, was also addressed by DH Lawrence in his novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. Jane Austen was far less inclined to write about characters from widely differing social backgrounds falling in lover. Her view on the topic of goblin marriages remains a mystery unlikely to be satisfactorily solved any time soon.
Many thanks for reading my review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I'll be back on Friday. In the meantime, the comments section is open for you to share your thoughts.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Wizard at Large by Terry Brooks here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my article about eating and drinking in horror fiction (Food for Thought) here.