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Flashcards in Aphra Behn Deck (18):

Aphra Behn

The First Professional Woman Writer in English


How many plays did she write?

Restoration Poet and Playwright who turned out 12 or so plays in a dozen years



- She wrote satire against the Whigs

- Wrote against King’s Illegitimate Son, the Whig Duke of Monmouth

- Held Royalist opinions

- Was a spy


Virginia Woolf Quote

“All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” (A Room of One's Own)


Form and Genre in Oroonoko

- Fact or Fiction, Realism or Romance

- Referred to as “a true history,” but that could refer to any true or false story

- Part Memoir, a personal account of what she had seen

- Part Travel Narrative: west to New World, east to Africa, and West again along the Middle Passage

- Part Biography of Oroonoko


17th Century Heroic Dramas and Romances

Oroonoko possesses gentler virtues: noble, passionate, constant love for Imoinda


Newness in All Forms

- The Origins of the Novel

- The Growth of Empire / The "New" world

- The Emergence of Women Writers

- Interest in non-European “Others”

- Cultivation of Sensibility

- Enlightened Ideals of Personal Freedom



- The Prince Oroonoko / Caesar
- The Queen Imoinda / Clemene
- Trefry, the kind and generous owner of Oroonoko
- Deputy Governor Byam, an actual figure



Large, “perfect ebony,” Roman nose (specifically NOT African), Fantastic Orator (neo-Classicism)


The Queen Imoinda

“She was female to the noble male; the beautiful black Venus to our young Mars”



- The Romance (Old World) vs. “A True History” (New World)

- “Where there is no novelty, there can be no curiosity.”

- “Twill be imagined Oroonoko stayed not long before he made his second visit” to Imoinda

- “...which I have often heard him say…”


Where did Aphra Behn really travel that people assume heavily influenced "Oroonoko"?



Discuss the novella's positioning between realism and romance.

Oroonoko, and especially its eponymous protagonist, exhibit many romantic traits. Oroonoko is every inch a king and a hero, despite his enslavement, and his reunion with Imoinda almost hints at a happy ending where the hero has recovered his love.

Still, Behn rejects the straightforwardly romantic ending which would see Oroonoko either escape or get revenge on his captors. Instead, he and Imoinda both die horribly, though nobly. Thus the tale is anchored in social particulars even as it used Romantic, and even neo-Classical, tropes.

Another element in the equation are Behn's real-life travels to Surinam -- it has long been an open question of how much of Oroonoko is inspired by her travels there.


What are some tactics by which Behn emphasizes Oroonoko's nobility?

- Comparisons to classical heroes

- Emphasis on Western Romantic virtues (love, gallantry, etc.)

- Comparing his education to that of a white man


Can this be seen as a critique of colonialism/slavery?

Though there are some elements of the text that suggest a critique -- the valorization of Oroonoko and his court, the tragedy of his, the poor representations of the white settlers -- there are many indications that it would be too simple to read the novel only this way.

We must also notice the way in which Oroonoko is valorized, which is mainly through the attribution of Romantic and "white" traits, and the role the narrator plays in the text. Though she befriends and admires Oroonoko, she is also clearly complicit in his subjugation in a number of ways.

During the slave rebellion, she is relieved when men come to "assist *us*" and gladly partakes in tours to see the "heathens" near the plantation in Surinam.

Ultimately, we are left with the feeling that Behn regrets the fate of Oroonoko the noble individual, but has few thoughts about slavery as an institution.


What is Oroonoko's slave name?



What influential philosophical ideal was developed in this novel?

Rousseau's idea of "the noble savage"


What was the reception of this work like?

It was not popular during its time, but was adopted by abolitionists in the late 18th century.