The psychologist Kay RedfieldJamison, in her memoir on living with bipolar (or manic-depressive) disorder,describes one of the symptoms of being in a manic episode as entering a stateof heightened sensitivity to beauty:My awarenessand experience of sounds in general and music in particular were intense.Individual notes from a horn, an oboe, or a cello became exquisitely poignant.I heard each note alone, all notes together, and then each and all withpiercing beauty and clarity.
I felt as though I were standing in the orchestrapit; soon, the intensity and sadness of classical music became unbearable tome. (79)Jamison throughout the book returns to descriptions of the sensoryintensity of the manic state, that during manic episodes, all environmentalstimuli of sight, sounds, scent, touch, and taste are amplified to the senses,and one’s own responses and drives become more compulsory and reactive. Colorsbecome more vivid, sounds become louder and purer, and the world takes on aquality altogether more exaggerated than how it seems in a non-manic state.
Foran artist of the written word, such manic states may produce descriptions ofintensified sensory stimulation and emotional responses, or narratives thatmodel the prognosis of the disorder. In this light it is possible to derive sucha manic-depressive reading in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” from thedescriptions of the exotic fruit and their effects, the reflection of bipolaremotional states in the form of the poem itself, and the nature of the “cure”proposed.Manic and depressive states arehinted at throughout the course of the poem. It is notable that the wares thegoblins are offering are exclusively fruits, not vegetables or grains; fruitstend to be more intense in taste and varied in coloring compared to grains or vegetablegreens, and therefore lend themselves more to exaggeration during states ofmanic alteration.
The usage of fruit clearly imbues a sense of sensuality tothe poem, especially when they are repeatedly and so richly described withdescriptions including not only their taste but also their colors and shapes aswell, engaging more of the reader’s senses. Sometimes the senses are combinedto create more vivid descriptions such as “Bright-fire-like barberries” (27),which not only describes their red color but also uses the tactile sensation oftouching fire to describe the stimulating brightness of the red, and the “sharpbullaces” (22) using the imagined jolt from touching sharpness to describesharp bitterness of taste. Their Biblical connotation with the apple from theTree of Knowledge also connects them to sex, which is of course another deeplysensual experience; another connection to sex is made when considering thatfruits are an essential element of the reproductive cycle of the plants thatbear them. There are also several references to the fruits’ exotic provenance,not only through the musings of lines like “Fruits which that unknown orchardbore” (135) but also of the goblins themselves, “Brother with queer brother”(94), who seem not only to have come from another country but from anotherworld.
If the fruits are from another world, it is one of warm winds (62),odorous mead (180) and “pure the wave they drink / With lilies at the brink”(181–2). Adding to their otherworldliness are inclusions of fruit that are notgrown in England (such as cranberries 11, indigenous to the Americancontinents that are often referred to as the “New World”) and how all of thesedifferent fruits that do not come into season simultaneously seem to be ripe atthe same time (apples 12 ripen in the fall, strawberries 14 in the summer).It is, in other words, a sensuously magnified world, like the normal world experiencedthrough the hyper-sensitized sensory faculty of a person in a manic state. Thefruit would then represent sensual experiences during a manic phase where everycolor and taste would seem, to borrow from Jamison’s wording, “exquisitelypoignant” and to have “piercing beauty and clarity.
“Depressive states usually followthese manic phases, with the opposite effect on how the world is perceived;morbid depression, as also experienced and described by Jamison, can inspirefeelings of paranoia, nihilism, and suicide. Addiction is also relevant to amanic-depressive reading because of its high concurrence rate with bipolardisorder, to the point of certain psychologists suggesting they have a commonpathology (Maremmani et al. 156). Laura showing signs of addiction andwithdrawal is consistent with the symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolardisorder. Laura “gnashed her teeth for baulked desire” (267) when she is unableto fulfill her craving for the goblin fruit, bringing to mind the withdrawalsymptoms of addiction.
She is also reduced to weeping during bouts of insomnia,also a common symptom of depression (“Signs and Symptoms of Depression”).Eventually she refuses to work or even eat, until finally she “sat downlistless in the chimney-nook” (297) and “Seemed knocking at Death’s door” (321),suggesting through the allusion to death that Laura has entered a state ofcatatonic depression where the patient seems to almost lie dead, drained of allaffect and unresponsive to the world. There is a clear progression fromecstatic joy or mania to catatonia, from where the world seems exaggerated tothe senses to where it seems dark and drained of emotions, consistent with theprogression of bipolar disorder.