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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A startling insight into European attitudes towards Africans before slavery became internalised
The thing that hit me when I read this 17th Century novel about an African prince transported as a slave to Surinam as the consequence of a forbidden love affair was that the prince, Oroonoko, was a person - and not just the human metaphor for slavery itself that i'd expected.

This is a rare example of an English novel from the period before the ideology of...
Published on 20 Jun 2010 by BlueSkiesForever

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn."
This book is, by all accounts, Aphra Behn's most famous work. She wrote erotic poetry and plays but this `novel' is why her name lives on in the 21st century. I placed the word novel in inverted commas as academics and scholars still argue to this day as to whether it can be described as a novel. More importantly was it the first novel in English?
Many of the...
Published 9 months ago by Christopher Sullivan


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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A startling insight into European attitudes towards Africans before slavery became internalised, 20 Jun 2010
This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The thing that hit me when I read this 17th Century novel about an African prince transported as a slave to Surinam as the consequence of a forbidden love affair was that the prince, Oroonoko, was a person - and not just the human metaphor for slavery itself that i'd expected.

This is a rare example of an English novel from the period before the ideology of slavery had been fully developed; Africans might have been perceived as less advanced than Europeans but they had not yet been reduced to the status of farm animals. Oroonoko, while not a fully sympathetic character, is brave and noble. The love affair that binds Oroonoko and Imoinda to a fate as slaves is deep and sensitive. African societies are implied to be complex, not the simple gangs of men with spears they would be transformed into in later European imaginings.

Aphra Behn is reported to have had conflicting feelings about slavery and these can be felt in her writing, giving this book a tension and urgency missing from most of her other prose. Was she made more or less sympathetic by her own life of constant struggle against the bounds that 17th Century England placed on the ambitions of women? Who can say, but she does seem to empathise with her African protaganists to a degree that is remarkable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn.", 15 Nov 2013
By 
Christopher Sullivan (edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This book is, by all accounts, Aphra Behn's most famous work. She wrote erotic poetry and plays but this `novel' is why her name lives on in the 21st century. I placed the word novel in inverted commas as academics and scholars still argue to this day as to whether it can be described as a novel. More importantly was it the first novel in English?
Many of the afore-mentioned scholars and academics will argue that Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) was the first novel and the English writer is often referred to as the `father of the novel'. However, it could, and has been, argued that Oroonoko was written in a novelistic form but personally I believe it comes under the heading of `novella'. The sound of hairs being split can be heard all around the country.
The story is fundamentally about the African prince Oroonoko (a mis-spelling of the river Orinoco) and his wife Imoinda. Both are captured separately by the British and brought to Surinam as slaves. Oroonoko could be cruelly interpreted as a simple romance story with its theme of boy meets girl, love at first sight, boy loses girl and then boy finds girl. However, for today's audience the story has become secondary to the themes of colonialism, racism and the innovative writing style of Aphra Behn.
Aphra Behn is credited not only with developing the pioneering female narrative but for addressing the inequality between men and women in the seventeenth century. Black people are not the only slaves in the book, women are also shackled by the mores of the day. Oroonoko is seen as one the literature's first abolitionist expositions. It's portrayal of racism and slavery is credited with aiding the cause for the abolitionists.
The racism and depiction of slavery make Oroonoko an uncomfortable read. However, coupled with the horrific descriptions of the deaths of Imoinda and Oroonoko the book becomes not only an uncomfortable read but disturbing one. However, when you re-read Oroonoko you realise how theatrical, fantastic and unrealistic many of the scenes in the book are: his killing of the tigers, his encounter with the electric eel and in particular Oroonoko's death which has him being slowly hacked to death while he passively continues to smoke only, "at the cutting off the other arm, his head sunk, and his pipe dropped, and he gave up the ghost."
Aphra Behn's theatrical past is writ large throughout the book and ironically it is mostly due to Thomas Southerne's stage adaption of Oroonoko after Behn's death that the story became celebrated and has continued to be re-read, reinterpreted and used as a rallying point by anti colonialists, abolitionists and feminists throughout the last 400 years.
But, of course, one must put the book into context. It was written by a woman at a time when women were subjugated to man's laws and rules. The seventeenth century was a time when women were seen as no better than the servants who worked in their household. What is more remarkable about Aphra Behn was that she was able to make a living from her writing. However, it should be remembered that many women in Britain had writings published during the seventeenth century but those names are now only remembered by academics and those studying English Literature (as I am); Lady Mary Chudleigh, Lady Jane Cavendish and Katherine Philips to name but a few.
Is this book read by anyone outside of the academic world? No, is the short answer. Sadly, its relevance is only to those who are using it for study purposes be that at school, university or as part of a thesis or book. I believe if it stopped being used a study tool at seats of learning then the book would cease to be published. Hopefully, that day never comes.
Let me leave you with words from the greatest woman writer that ever lived, Virginia Woolf,

"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... Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A for Aphra, 12 Dec 2012
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Selected by a friend as a book club choice,supposedly the first novel ever written and by a woman with an interesting reputation. I studied Aphra Behn at college, but hadn't read this novel before,only a couple of her plays. Thoroughly enjoyed it,if slightly startled by the graphic violence.Read in its historical context,there is obviously a level of racism and sexism that you would expect for the period it was written in.My first book bought on a kindle too, have to say still not converted from paper though...
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3.0 out of 5 stars Study, 19 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Brought this as an Open University set book for studying and was a good reference book but not something I would choose to read for pleasure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Story, 20 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Stuck with me, very easy to read! Great insight gained into the psychology of the writer and the time written about!
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3.0 out of 5 stars WARNING: THIS IS THE BOOK, NOT THE PLAY, 26 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Bought this thinking it was the Thomas Southerne play based on the book. It was my own fault, so i can't rate the book badly, and even after buying it i read it and found it interesting, if hard going in it's old-fashioned style of writing. Nice lightweight copy with a few introductory notes at the beginning, but not enough for academic study.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oroonoko, 18 Mar 2014
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essieb (England UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Bought for coursework; very unusual; more interested in Aphra Behn, what an amazing woman for her time. Notes and introduction helpful.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A window to a different century, 29 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Read the book as part of my OU studies.
It is an eye opener of an era gone by.
I also liked Sam Selvon's Lonely Londoners, which I highly recommend.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing love story dressed up as literature?, 6 July 2012
By 
E. A. Banks (Ipswich, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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When reading a book that was written 320 years ago, the fact that times have changed must be borne in mind. Therefore, I was prepared for an unfamiliar writing style and outdated attitudes to slavery and black people. I wasn't prepared to be quite so disappointed though. The writing is, as I expected, hard going, particularly the dialogue where some rather flowery English speech is attributed to Africans and natives of Surinam. Everybody in this book speaks like an English gent! The author uses "`em" rather than "them" a great deal, which, for reasons I cannot explain, annoyed me intensely. As for the story itself; boy meets girl, boy loses girl (to grandfather, rather unusually), both become slaves, nobody lives happily ever after. Besides not engaging with the story, I feel that the book gets bogged down in extraneous detail; what is the point of that bit where they visit the Indian village? Some of the sentences are so long that the story starts to sound like a breathless exaggerated tale told by a child. Also, like a lot of older literature, there are too many convenient coincidences and it is no surprise to the reader when Oroonoko and Imoinda are reunited. It is all a bit silly really. Aphra Behn is undoubtedly a very important figure in literature, but after battling my way through this, I am not in any hurry to read any other 17th century novels.
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2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not mindblowing, 8 Mar 2010
By 
Amy Harding "Literature Lion" (Cardiff University, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Oroonoko is reputed to be one of the first novels ever written, and i'm sure the feminists are very pleased that one of the competitors for starting our favourite literary type is a woman. Not only that, Oroonoko discusses the highly controversial subject of Slavery. Oroonoko definitely has a place in history and is an intriguing text for comparison of values and attitudes. However, i found the narrative itself quite dry and the prejudices of the narrator frustrating. Aphra Behn is clearly a Classic Author and credence has to be given to her for the inspiration she gave to other writers of the Novel but Oroonoko is definitely stuck in the past in terms of narrative style and is missing that gripping quality.
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Oroonoko (Penguin Classics)
Oroonoko (Penguin Classics) by Aphra Behn (Paperback - 30 Oct 2003)
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