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  • “Like Two Pigeons in One Nest, Like Two Seedlings in One Capsule”: Reading Goblin Market in Conjunction with Victorian Twin Discourse
  • Emily A. Bernhard-Jackson (bio)

The first four lines of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market contain four of the most arresting instances of twinning in Victorian literature:

Morning and eveningMaids heard the goblins cry:“Come buy our orchard fruits,Come buy, come buy!”

(ll. 1–4)1

The duplication of “come buy” in the final line and its repetition of the single “come buy” in the line before are the most obvious of these twinnings, but there is also the homonymic slippage by which that same “come buy” is simultaneously “come by, come by,” an invitation to the listeners. Most subtly, there is the joining of morning and evening, two sides of the day, two sides of the line, made interchangeable by the copulative “and.” Such repetitions, duplications, and connections both give Goblin Market its uncanniness and reveal its roots in the uncanny. They also link the text to the Victorian fascination with twins. Even after 150 years, Laura and Lizzie, those easily confused “two blossoms on one stem, . . . / two flakes of new-fall’n snow” (ll. 188–189), remain simultaneously beguiling and puzzling, but at least part of their mystery, and part of the mystery of Goblin Market’s meaning, can be clarified by connecting the poem to the body of medical and folk beliefs about twins available during the Victorian period.

Goblin Market has been widely analyzed since Rossetti’s resurgence began in 1979, and its connections to medicine have been part of this analysis from early on.2 Despite this, and despite the fact that Rossetti was an active [End Page 451] participant in Victorian intellectual life and, less fortunately but just as significantly, was familiar with the world of medicine through her own ill health and that of her close relatives, there has been virtually no work considering the uses of medicine or medical texts and beliefs in the poem. This article, therefore, stakes out fresh territory, illuminating links between the medical and the aesthetic in Goblin Market.

It is by now a commonplace of Victorian studies that the era was obsessed with twins and doubles.3 Precisely because of this, it is important to make a distinction between the two at my outset. Doubles are beings who need not be identical. They may make themselves identical for a purpose, thematic or otherwise (for example, Gilmartin, the shape-shifting devil of James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner), or, while not physically identical, they may be recognized as symbolically so (for example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Twins, however, really are identical. Although they must be regarded as a version of doubles, given that they are literally one set of DNA doubled,4 they are not symbols but rather come to be invested with symbolism. It might be simplest to say that, for my purposes, doubles are not twins, but twins can be used as doubles.5 My goal here is to see what kinds of symbolic resonances twinship offers in sources that might have influenced Rossetti and to examine how these resonances change readings of Goblin Market.

One cannot determine precisely how and where Rossetti would have encountered Victorian twins and beliefs about them, because, as with any author, one cannot say precisely what she read and what she heard around her. As the daughter of an Italian writer for operatic theater, however, she would certainly have been familiar with Carlo Goldoni’s 1747 I Due Gemelli Venezia (The Two Venetian Twins), a hugely popular opera that quickly became part of the Italian canon. As a scholar and a Christian, she was almost certain to have read Milton’s Areopagitica, in which he observes that “it was from out the rind of one apple taſted that the knowledge of good and evill, as two twins cleaving together, leapt forth into the world.”6

More immediately, twins were a common topic and trope in the Victorian period, part of the fabric of cultural life. Britain had an abiding fascination with the more freakish forms of twinning as early as...


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pp. 451-470
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