Christina Rossetti and Charles Baudelaire, in their respective poems “Goblin Market” and “A Carcass,” voiced different, though sometimes intertwining, views on the conditions of the modern world. “Goblin Market” describes the troubles that arise from pure women giving in to the temptations of “goblins” – a metaphor for men – while “A Carcass” describes the beauty and liveliness of a decomposing corpse, lamenting that in time, even his lover will become like the corpse. Rossetti describes a life that can be good and pure, as long as women are careful and stay away from vile men; in contrast, though he describes the carcass in immensely beautiful detail, Baudelaire laments that no matter how good and pure a person – namely a woman – is, they shall all end up in the same rotten state as the corpse.
Despite this contrast, these two poets equally emphasize natural beauty and purity among all women that must be protected, and when it is not, then she becomes rather like a corpse, wretched and pitiful.
Though the narrative of “Goblin Market” allows very little room for the presence of good in the lives of men and women, the ending enlivens a bit of hope in the good of the modern world, particularly for women. One of the sisters, Laura, gets herself into trouble by not only partaking in the fruit of goblin men but by completely gorging and overindulging herself point. This feast of tainted fruit makes her grow grey and weary, but through the strength and perseverance of her sister Lizzie, she can be cured by a gentle taste of the juice that had placed her in such condition.
Allowing Laura to live and be free of her affliction at the end of the story allows for a hopeful interpretation of the lives of women. Even though Laura had done wrong and eaten the lin’s fruit, she was able to be redeemed at the end with the help of her sister, who risked giving in to her temptation to save Laura. In this way, a woman’s strength and chastity are rewarded with a long, fulfilling life. This allows for both the sinner and savior alike to grow older and have families of their own, and they can teach their children, particularly their daughters, two very important lessons: not to partake of the “fruit” of “goblins,” as well as to be a supportive sister to one another. Altogether, this narrative does not condemn women who sin, like many in the nineteenth century, would; rather, it gives hope to the sinner, assuring that through faith and help from those who truly love her, she can live happily through the rest of her days.
Baudelaire, on the other hand, offers a more somber reading on the life of a woman. His poem “A Carcass,” as its namesake would suggest, describes the corpse of a woman on the side of the road in immense, almost beautiful detail. Despite the stench and sun-induced rot, he illustrates the corpse as lively and musical as flies buzz around her and maggots writhe beneath her skin and clothes. His lover walking beside him, however, is not quite as taken with the image as Baudelaire seems to be, and she nearly faints from the pungent odor the carcass lets off. Her presence at his side, a stark contrast to the dead woman in the ditch, makes him lament her mortality specifically, rather than the mortality of humans. He does not hesitate to describe what she will be like when she is dead and rotting, with worms feasting upon her bones as they would any other woman. This honest and unflinching narrative does not allow for the hope that Rossetti provided in “Goblin Market.” Baudelaire seems to not pay any excess mind to the idea that his lover is superbly beautiful or intelligent because no matter how pretty or pure she is, she will end up in the same state as the corpse on the side of the road. Though his observation is turned towards his lover specifically, it speaks to Baudelaire’s view on the world in general. In his mind, there is an absence of both good and evil, and death is the ultimate end for all people, no matter how pure or righteous they are in life.
Despite these differences, both Baudelaire and Rossetti seem to have similar views on the state of a woman based on the level of her purity. Both of these poets ultimately celebrate purity and chastity in their ways, while looking down upon promiscuity and uncleanliness. In “Goblin Market,” Laura is described as “dwindling” and “knocking on Death’s door” after her sin of gorging herself on goblin fruit, unable to complete her household duties, and becoming gray and haggard. In a similarly negative way, the corpse in “A Carcass” is described with her legs parted “like a lecherous whore,” inviting the worms and other foul things total access to her womb – though she is dead and has no say in the matter anyway. These two descriptions effectively shine a negative light on women who turn to a promiscuous, “lecherous” life, warning that such women shall become corpse-like in life and even more wretched in death. In a contrasting way, the two poets praise goodness and purity in women. Rossetti describes Lizzie when she is resisting the goblins’ offer of fruit, as “white and golden,” among many other analogies for purity and chastity, and at the end of the story, when Lizzie saves Laura, Laura is returned to her golden state, purified and safe to continue on her life without the fear of untimely death due to her sin. Even Baudelaire, despite knowing that his beloved would eventually rot as well, describes his lover with many analogies of pure light, such as “sun” and “star,” praising her for her beauty and, no doubt, purity, and cleanliness. Only in death will she lose her light, just as she would if she were to become unfaithful or lecherous.
Through these two poems, Rossetti and Baudelaire can be seen to have differing views on the condition of the modern world. Rossetti sees the world as naturally good for those who choose to make it that way, giving hope to those who are saved from their sin. Baudelaire, on the other hand, does not see good or evil in the world and instead laments that all people, no matter how wicked or pure they may be, will be subjected to a rotten, unclean death. What these two writers can agree on, at least, is the positive outlook on the purity of women, and the negative one on those who choose to act lecherously.