Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

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  • Oroonoko, by Aphra Behn (1688)
    • Narrator:
      • Jacqueline Pearson, ‘Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn’ (1991)
        • The complexity of the female narrator (most of Behn’s narrators are sexless or female), they are contradictory: power over own narrative, but outside of it powerless. This duplicitous narrator, even ‘flawed narrator,’ reveal that a female narrator, utilising phallocentric language and form is both ‘embedded in the patriarchy and limited by it.’ 
        • Behn’s female narrators are ‘paradoxically’ misogynistic, seeking approval of the reigning authority over literature (publishers, readers, other writers and patrons), all male, she constantly illustrates the female weakness, whilst in a position of power.
        • Tentative adverbs (i.e "possibly" ’[t]his transparently ironic humility does not so much accept the conventional limitations as draw mocking attention to them.’
        • Behn mocks the ‘imperfectness’ of male authority: History is a male sphere, Behn often has her female narrator, (when recounting events in historical form) ‘forget’ certain details.
    • Form/Genre
      • 'Rise of the English novel'
        • Daniel Defoe is proclaimed "father of the novel" Robinson Crusoe (1719), but Oroonoko was a contender.
        • Follows rise of the middle class, and mass publication
      • Breaks Aristotelian form: fiction told what could happen as opposed to what did. (The narrator claims these events really happened from the start.)
        • "-there being enough of reality to support it...without the addition of invention" (p.1)
    • Themes:
      • 'Noble savage'
        • Jean-Jaque Rousseau (French Philosopher)
          • "Man is born free and is everywhere in chains" (On the Social Contract) 1762
      • Kingship
        • Behn’s novel blatantly promotes the idea of an absolute monarchy. She refers to “the deplorable death of our great monarch” (7). Through the character, Oroonoko, she shows that some people are meant to be in power
    • Structure
      • Mixture of 1st person (personal, inner world)  and 3rd person (all-knowing, authority, society view) narration
      • Not strictly chronological: narrator's time in Surinam (1st person) and then recounts Oroonoko's memories (3rd person) then present time again (1st person)
    • Context:
      • Published 1688
        • Behn had written one previous prose, an epistolary novel, but mostly plays.
      • Critical reception"
        • At the time: overlooked, and then revered as a love story/'humanitarian' (anti-slavery)
        • Now: highly regarded work, praised for its anti-colonial themes, and female narration.
        • These views reflected the time and political stance. Changing with time, to fit different agendas (romantic (early 18th c) anti-slavery (18th c), feminist(19th c), anti-colonial (20th c).)
      • Untitled
    • Aphra Behn (1640-1689)
    • Thought's on...
      • The Body
      • Early Modern literature and autobiography
      • Religion (sacred vs. profane)
      • Politically subversive? (anti-colonial)
        • Key Quote: "mangled king" and "His nose was rising and Roman...so nobly and exactly formed that, bating his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful"
        • It is neither, and contradictory: expressing views about 'absolute monarchy' while also praising liberation of the weak but only when they have 'roman' features.


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