Oroonoko

Context: Intro *not first novel, wrote epistolary 5 years previous.
Published 1688 (Glorious Revolution-overthrow James II, time of change, no absolute monarchy). Written by Aphra Behn (1640-1689)
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Context: Critical reception (then/now)
Then: widely overlooked, then dismissed as a love story (17th c), seen as anti-slavery and praised when Britain became opposed (1833) (18th c), praised for its proto-feminist themes (19th c) and then its anti-colonial themes (20th c), today it is-
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Context: 'Rise of the English Novel' *Parallel to rise of middle class, and publishing industry.
Now, a contender in the debate for first english novel, although Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' (1719) is "father of the novel", Behn's work influenced many of the features for the genre: inc. role of narrator, protagonist and linear plot.
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Form: Rejects Aristotle + classic model
Breaks Aristotelian model, he believed literature was what could be, not what is. Behn: "there being enough reality to support it... without the addition of invention." (p.1)
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Structure: 1st + 3rd person narration
Mixture of 1st person (personal, inner world) and 3rd person (all-knowing, authority, society view) narration.
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Structure: Not strictly chronological
Narrator's time in Surinam (1st person) and then recounts Oroonoko's memories (3rd person) then present time again (1st person)
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Structure: Behn's narrator
Jacqueline Pearson, ‘Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn’ (1991): "Behn’s female narrators are ‘paradoxically’ misogynistic, seeking approval of the reigning authority over literature (publishers, readers, other writers and patrons)-
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Structure: Behn's narrator (CONT.)
-all male, she constantly illustrates the female weakness ('ironic humility "possibly"), whilst in a position of power. Power over narrative, powerless outside of it: draws attention to limitation, not accepting it..
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Structure: Behn's narrator (CONT.)
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.
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Themes: 'Noble Savage' vs. Civilised Man
Pre-cursor to Behn: Jean-Jaque Rousseau (French Philosopher) (never said this phrase, but explored the concept.) Quote: "Man is born free and is everywhere in chains" (On the Social Contract) 1762. But, Behn portrays Oroonoko European physiognomy-
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Themes: 'Noble Savage' vs. Civilised Man (CONT.)
-she fully embraces the innate superiority of European people and European culture. The other slaves are depicted as savages: "admiration that is natural to these people...extreme ignorance and simplicity of them" (p.122)
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Themes: Kingship
Behn displays a belief in 'absolute monarchy', portrayed by Oroonoko, even when dressed as a slave, his regency shines through: '-his osenbrigs...could not conceal the graces of his looks and mien." (p.108) 'Caesar' (great Roman ruler)
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Thoughts on: Is it politically subversive?
(Appropriating male voice, becomes criticism) 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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Thoughts on: Is it politically subversive? (CONT.)
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".
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Thoughts on: Is it autobiographical?
All early modern literature is autobiographical, it reflects the uncertainties of the author and of the time, Behn did live in Surinam, her own views colour the page (absolute monarchy, feminist narrator).
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Thoughts: Religion (sacred vs. profane)
"one could not make him understand what faith was." Subjectivity on what is 'sacred' and what is 'profane', for Oroonoko the trinity has no relevance to his life/culture, but the narrator's dismissal of his view as ignorance: her narrow mindedness.
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Themes: Anti-colonial
"Have they won us in honourable battle?", (Oroonoko's anti-slavery/colonial speech to his people.)
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Card 2

Front

Then: widely overlooked, then dismissed as a love story (17th c), seen as anti-slavery and praised when Britain became opposed (1833) (18th c), praised for its proto-feminist themes (19th c) and then its anti-colonial themes (20th c), today it is-

Back

Context: Critical reception (then/now)

Card 3

Front

Now, a contender in the debate for first english novel, although Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' (1719) is "father of the novel", Behn's work influenced many of the features for the genre: inc. role of narrator, protagonist and linear plot.

Back

Preview of the back of card 3

Card 4

Front

Breaks Aristotelian model, he believed literature was what could be, not what is. Behn: "there being enough reality to support it... without the addition of invention." (p.1)

Back

Preview of the back of card 4

Card 5

Front

Mixture of 1st person (personal, inner world) and 3rd person (all-knowing, authority, society view) narration.

Back

Preview of the back of card 5
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