Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" (1862) has garnered seemingly limitless critical interpretation — the goblins' remarkable fruit inviting allegorical readings of the poem that reference, most popularly, Christianity, sexuality, and capitalism. In this essay I read fruit simply as food, situating the poem within the context of food adulteration contemporary with its 1859 composition. Food adulteration was a widespread problem in Victorian England, as increasing numbers of merchants cut flour with alum, doctored curry with mercury, and enhanced the appearance of potted fruits and vegetables with copper and lead. Public alarm regarding this form of fraud reached its height in the 1850s, largely due to the work of an independent Analytical Sanitary Commission, which published its findings in The Lancet between 1851 and 1854. While Parliament responded to these reports with the formation of a Select Committee in 1855, the popular press responded with articles, tracts, and ballads addressing this pandemic problem. Manuals that instructed consumers how to protect themselves by acquiring the accoutrements of home laboratories proliferated, as did references to adulteration in popular literature. In this essay I read Rossetti's poem as an example of this type of reference. The market of the poem's title, I argue, references a literally contaminated marketplace in which the numbers of people who ate ostensibly nutritious food, only to wither and die in consequence, provoked both governmental and popular alarm.

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