There are no signifecant female heroes
in English literature up to the time of Rossetti. Female protagonists exist, of course, like Elizabeth in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but they have no outlet for heroic action. They are constrained by the gender-roles into which a male-dominated society has placed them. Elizabeth must spend a good deal of her energy waiting for Darcy to take action; she herself is hobbled by the cords of decorum.
In "Goblin Market," Rossetti creates a rudimentary framework of behavior in which a female hero -- a heroine -- might operate. Rossetti's efforts are to some degree successful, though she fails to solve the problem completely.
Throughout the poem Lizzie remains pure; this is nothing new. The role of the unstained virgin has existed longer than the English language. Spenser's Florimell provides an early example. What is different about Lizzie is that she actively pursues temptation with the intention of conquering it. When she sees that Laura is wasting away (Norton 1514), Lizzie resolves to go and get her the fruit as a final,...