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A review of aphra behns writing oroonoko

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the purpose of this study is to challenge such a claim with regard to Behn's Oroonoko, even if the scope of my discussion does not allow a review of aphra behns writing oroonoko to undermine his assertion with recourse to other prose texts from the period.

Women, Writing, and Fiction 1660-1800, London Virago 1989, p. Despite Behn's celebrated reputation as a playwright, Janet Todd invites us to consider that "for literary history, [Behn's] most important new area was prose fiction, not an established form and not yet especially lucrative " 2. In the 1680s, in the last years of her life, Behn appears to have turned to prose writing to mend her ailing career as a playwright.

Her male counterparts, such as Dryden and Wycherley for example, were similarly suffering as a result of a sustained crisis in the theatre 3. In this decade, the theatre environment of the capital was in a state of decay as a jittery nation reeled from the revelation in 1678 of a supposed Popish Plot promoting the cause of the catholic Duke of York.

Moreover, in 1682 with regard to Behn herself, it is thought that she met with disapprobation at court for her prologue and epilogue to the play Romulus and Hersilia, or, The Sabine War, in which the Duke of Monmouth was brought into disrepute. For a more general deb. Nevertheless, in all her fiction writing, Behn is clearly seen to experiment with received conventions of genre [romance, epistolary novel, nouvelle and the chronique scandaleuse, for example] in order to create hybrids which continue to challenge her readership and to revise gendered expectations regarding authorship 6.

It must also become gradually apparent that in Oroonoko, Behn is drawing upon conventions traditionally associated with that popular Restoration discourse which was to be nurtured by the Royal Society: Davis makes the important point that "[. Exploring the facts as they appeared in the 1940s, MacCarthy concluded that "Mrs. Behn's way is half heroic and half realistic" 10.

At this point, for example, it might be noted that the reunion between the enslaved hero and his beloved Imoinda, taking place during the narrator's sojourn in Surinam, remains distinctly reminiscent of those described in earlier romances from the seventeenth century: Characteristically, Behn does not conduct the whole narrative in accordance with the expectations of such writing: In this text, there is no possibility that the heroine narrator or Imoinda may be allowed to break out of identities imposed upon her by an inhibiting patriarchy; neither become, as in the romance tradition, unrealistically valued as desired women, nor are they given an enhanced cultural power of intervention.

The a review of aphra behns writing oroonoko schizophrenic Behn combines the humilitas topos, favoured by women writers in the Early Modern period, with an early Augustan authoritative voice of writer: Elsewhere, the hero's bewilderment, exasperation, melancholy, disorientation and so on are set in relief by the narrator's authoritative promotion of her own experience: I had a set of these presented to me, and I gave them to the King's Theatre, and it was the dress of the Indian Queen, infinitely admired by persons of quality, and were inimitable" 17.

Ultimately, it becomes abundantly clear that humility is a strategy with which Behn is able to confirm her status as writer: Yet, I hope, the a review of aphra behns writing oroonoko of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive to all ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda" 18.

Throughout the narrative, the authority of the narrator's emotional, cultural and political experience is privileged over and above that of her hero.

Drawing upon the conventions of journalistic and travel writing two key discursive fields in the emergence of prose fiction in order to validate her textual voice, the narrator underlines her heightened powers of observation and sensitivity in order to promote herself as a reliable interpreter of the unfolding tale.

In this context of orientalist and travel. For further discussion on relevant traditions, s. She dresses him, it is true, in a suit of brown hollands; but none the less the plumes continue to wave in the breeze and the satins to glisten in the sun. She could not wholly escape from Le Grand Cyrus" 21. For further evidence here of critical dissatisfaction, see: It may be that Behn is attempting to endear herself to a readership which is still in embryonic form by exploiting existing prose conventions.

Convincingly, Ballaster proposes that in this period "women's only political instrumentality was to be achieved by playing the role of seductress. Not only does the woman writer receive approval rather than scorn for her confinement of her interest to the sphere of love, she also receives financial remuneration" 24. Moreover, Behn never chose to underplay the authoring of this role of seductress in any of her writing.

Besides, he was adorned with a native beauty so transcending all those of his gloomy race". Such panegyric continues, but repeatedly the narrator's celebration a review of aphra behns writing oroonoko the hero betrays her own Eurocentric prejudices as well as casting grave doubts over any perceived "enlightened" discourses which may be operating within the text. The narrator proceeds to exclaim that "'twas amazing to imagine where it was [Oroonoko] learned so much humanity; or, to give his accomplishments a juster name, where 'twas he got that real greatness of soul" 26.

Inevitably, the narrator's ennobling of Oroonoko on account of his social exposure to Europeans problematises the abolitionist readings which were placed upon Behn's text from its publication. Ultimately, it is difficult not to concur with Gallagher that "unless we acknowledge that Oroonoko's blackness refers most importantly to racial difference and indeed is dependent on a stock response of racial prejudice in the reader, we cannot explain what is so wonderful about him and so meritorious in the author.

The aristocratic hero confirms his place predominantly in Behn's exotic narrative through his sense of royalist solidarity and his expressed sympathies for many European value systems: The gratified narrator praises Oroonoko's mimicry of European cultural mores: The hero is admired in proportion to his abilities to reproduce, or mirror, the colonizer values. It is only later that this act of refraction by Oroonoko is deemed to be subversive and disruptive as he commits himself to civil disobedience and refuses to submit to the regal authority of his colonial masters.

As she directs her reader's apparently greedy eyes to the main players in her tale, they become specimens of the extraordinary, the tantalising unknown. In order to soothe the potentially disoriented reader, Behn validates albeit unnervingly this textual journeying around the globe by returning to the governing referents of romance writing which even extend to the detailing of the protagonists' physiognomy: Subsequently, the familiar object of desire from romances and orientalist tales of the aristocratic virgin emerges in the figure of Imoinda.

Her body becomes a site of contested ownership and exchange in the vigorous homosocial relationships of Behn's exoticised Africa. Significantly, Oroonoko himself chooses to privilege male comradeship and warriorship when his worthy African opponent, Jamoan, was "never put [.


However, robbed of any meaningful cultural status, Imoinda's body becomes the symbolic possibility of sexual and political achievement for both the hero and his grandfather, "the king of Cormantien [who] was himself a man of a hundred and odd years old" 32. Such patriarchal relationships, particularly with reference to Oroonoko and his grandfather the king, serve not only to commodify Imoinda, but also to render her amongst the perishable goods in this hedonistic society.

When the hero finally gains access to her bed, the king demonises her "as a polluted thing, wholly unfit for his embrace" and resolves that she and his treacherous wife Onahal "should be both sold off, as slaves, to another country, either Christian, or heathen, 'twas no matter where'" 33.

Repeatedly, the narrative voice is found to savour details of the court's sensualism and this can only serve to interrupt any moral dialectic which may be operating in the text. The narrator revels in harem adventures to such an extent that the victimisation of the heroine is effectively displaced by erotic detailing: The king, without more courtship, bade her throw off her mantle and come to his arms".

Here, the other self which the narrator chooses to fabricate in an account of darkest, unknown Africa is subjected to a rhetorical heightening effect.

However, the anxieties surrounding this other self can never be fully concealed. Whilst inviting the reader to make an imaginative leap into a conventionally forbidden world of exotic and erotic pleasures, the excitable narrator frequently discloses the effects of her inadequate knowledge: Every detail of Imoinda's subjugation is dwelt upon in this phase of the narrative: In many ways, Imoinda constitutes a key element a review of aphra behns writing oroonoko Behn's frequently conventional portrayal of an exotic world as seen through European eyes.

An Analysis of Oroonoko by Aphra Behn Essay

Such a world is, of course, held in a time warp awaiting the magical arrival of outsiders. The culture of the Other ischaracterised by uninhibited patriarchy, sexual availability and passivity to foreigners. As a cultural marker, gender is clearly deployed in Behn's text as an integral element in her examination of repressive power relationships and Gallagher is surely right to insist that in this debate the reader should be mindful of the commodification of the female writer in this period as her reputation is placed in jeopardy through the marketing of her literary wares 36.

In the same way that the narrator entrances the hero with classical texts, so she commodifies him and resells him for consumption through her own storytelling—and yet the body of her text is also being consumed. An interpolated narrative briefly introduces the reader to Onahal, the discarded royal wife. This new counter in the game of love and chance enables Behn to probe the sexual careers of two couples Oroonoko and Imoinda, Onahal and A review of aphra behns writing oroonoko and this is a prospect which the narrator greets with nervous excitement: This is rendered evident as Imoinda is repeatedly viewed in terms of sexual promise and yet forfeits legitimacy of status in this society when that promise is redeemed by the hero.

In the main, Behn's reader is not encouraged to challenge enslavement as a malignant cultural practice. Instead of dwelling upon any consideration for the plights of these particular captives, the reader must attend to "some new, and till then unknown power [which] instructed his heart and tongue in the language of love" 38.

Indeed, subsequently, when the English slaver arrives Oroonoko has no qualms about doing business with such men: To this captain he sold abundance of his slaves" 39. The hero is found to inscribe himself willingly in the market economy of his culture as he trades in slaves. Such commerce provokes no moralizing intervention on the part of the narrator who guards a very selective line of vision when it comes to detailing narratives of oppression.

Moreover, it is made abundantly clear that if Oroonoko is humiliated in servitude, it is through the devaluing of his cultural status rather than anything else; this notion is echoed in the discussion of Imoinda's enslavement: Most recently in critical studies, the gender politics of Behn's text has been unduly privileged—serving to displace, if not to obscure, the racial ideologies underpinning Oroonoko. Birth of a Paradigm", p.

  1. In the novel, the narrator presents herself as a lady who has come to Surinam with her unnamed father, a man intended to be a new lieutenant-general of the colony.
  2. Structurally, there are three significant pieces to the narrative, which does not flow in a strictly biographical manner. Had Behn not known the individuals she fictionalizes in Oroonoko, it is extremely unlikely that any of the real royalists would have become fictional villains or any of the real republicans fictional heroes, and yet Byam and James Bannister, both actual royalists in the Interregnum, are malicious, licentious, and sadistic, while George Marten, a Cromwellian republican, is reasonable, open-minded, and fair.
  3. He, however, dies on the voyage from England.
  4. Immediately, she breaks the form of classic Aristotelian fiction, which Aristotle describes as an imitation of nature as a whole. In Africa, for example, when the aristocratic hero waits to engage in battle and learns of the supposed death of Imoinda, the reader is greeted with.
  5. The colonizers' determination to generate a land of milk and honey from the brutalities of the South American settlement can only be further complicated by the introduction of a third element in the colonial experience.

It has been estimated that between the seventeen. No such body of thought existed to be tapped 42. Behn internalises the cultural codes of her society and asks her readers to extend their sympathies exceptionally to enslaved black aristocrats. The subtitle of this work, The Royal Slave, proposes what appears to the narrator an appalling or even obscene oxymoron.

On its own, the notion of "slave" is not found to provoke a consistent textual response. Brown goes on to make the important point that "the constant misrepresentation and romanticising of African reality [.

Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: The Royal Slave Analysis and Summary

The picture drawn of the journey on the middle passage from West Africa to the Caribbean [. Behn repeatedly directs the reader's attention to an aristocratic individual's dignified demeanour under a vicious regime and his yearning for a world in which noble codes of courtesy and deference prevail. Once on Surinam's shores, Oroonoko will have the satisfaction of saying to the captain: Arrival in the New World gives the narrator the pretext to indulge in some patriotic and golden age mythmaking: It affords all things both for beauty and use; 'tis there eternal Spring, always the very months of April, May and June" 46.

Many critics of Behn's narrative have highlighted Sir Walter Raleigh's promotion of Guiana during the Jacobean period "[as] a country that hath yet her maidenhead, never sacked, turned or wrought" 47. This region of South America was to remain one of the many fantasied loci for Europeans associated with the Caribbean. The British were to make their first attempts at settlement in Surinam in the 1640s.

After a sequence of vigorous conflicts between Dutch and British forces trying to secure authority over the colony, it was finally surrendered to the Dutch in the Treaty of Breda of 1667 48. However, it soon becomes clear that whatever the anxieties aroused by her familial dilemmas, the narrator still allows herself to reflect upon and promote the English colonial venture: Even the Surinam Indians, who are supposedly products of a serene world, are significant only as profitable resources: They are extreme modest and bashful, very shy, and nice of being touched [.

Here, the narrator draws attention to anxieties associated with the discourses of the Golden Age and the Noble Savage.

An analogous process of identification, involving sameness and difference, is applied to Oroonoko and Imoinda on one occasion: By pursuing various avenues of colonial mythmaking, the narrator unsettles the desired European past and, consequently, introduces discontinuities of perception. Given that much of the textual voyaging composed by Behn has been to heighten the sensual and emotional experience of the reader, the formerly orientalising narrator concludes rather flatly that "there being nothing to heighten curiosity, but all you can see, you see at once, and every moment see; and where there is no novelty, there can be no curiosity" 53.

For further discussion, see Ferguson, Subject to Others, p. Exploitation is the governing principle of this environment as raw materials and foodstuffs are provided at a profit for the metropolitan, colonial power across the seas.

A review of aphra behns writing oroonoko largest contingent within the colonial society was the often ailing and maltreated slave population and, inevitably, this generated continual disquiet and fears of rebellion.

Intermittently, the narrator fuses her golden age fixations with the conventions of courtly love.