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"Shall we render Obedience to such a degenerate Race...Will you, I say, suffer the Lash from such Hands?"
on 11 February 2015
As one of the earliest novels in English, it's interesting to see what fiction was like in the 1680s.
This is the tale of Prince Orinooko, only surviving grandson of the rather despotic 100-year old king of 'Coramantien' in Africa. He falls in love with local beauty, Imoinda, but she has caught the eye of his grandfather too, who makes her part of his harem. The first part of the novel, the description of the royal court and related adventures was quite interesting (a rather 'English' imagining of the place, I think, with its French tutor and European courtly ideals: "refined Notions of true Honour, that absolute Generosity, and that Softness, that was capable of the highest Passions of Love and Gallantry.")
Then the two lovers are separately sold into slavery and here one must suspend disbelief, as our hero's new owner in Surinam, aware of his slave's qualities, "began to conceive so vast an Esteem for him, that he ever after lov'd him as his dearest Brother" and "he was received more like a Governor than a Slave." However, that doesn't mean life is going to be easy, as Orinooko comes to the belief that "there was no Faith in the White men or the Gods they ador'd...a Man ought to be eternally on his Guard and never to eat or drink with Christians, without his Weapon."
How Orinooko's observations cause him to act forms the concluding part of the tale.
Despite being 330 years old, this is perfectly readable, though I have to say it didn't exactly 'grab' me as a read - maybe 2.5*. However from an historical point of view, it's of interest both to see the development of the novel, and to observe how the Black race was portrayed as against Victorian opponents to slavery like Harriet Beecher Stowe. While the latter gains her readers' sympathies by focussing on Uncle Tom's Christianity and long-suffering, and creates a rather child-like character, Aphra Behn shows a man who repudiates all Christianity stands for and who is 'all man' in his fearlessness - "a Prince, whose Valour and Magnanimity deserved the Empire of the World" and "Who struck an Awe and Reverence."