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Oroonoko: An Authoritative Text, Historical Backgrounds, Criticism (Norton Critical Editions) Paperback – 19 Feb 1997
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'Excellent copy text and really outstanding collection of contextual material - and at a remarkably low price...Congratulations!' - Peter New, University of Exeter --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Aphra Behn flourished in the cosmopolitan world of the London playhouse and the court. It was she, Virginia Woolf wrote, "who earned [women] the right to speak their minds." Joanna Lipking is Lecturer in English at Northwestern University, where she has taught since 1979. A Columbia Ph.D., she writes on women's emergence in print culture. Her articles and reviews on Aphra Behn and other early women writers appear in Studies in the Eighteenth Century, The Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography, and the recent Cambridge University Press collection, Aphra Behn Studies.
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I don't think this is the typical slave narrative because Orookono is a prince. Even the overlords treat him that way, and he seems more a victim of cruel fate than of slavery. Still, this valiant, brave-hearted soul is subjected and finally overcome by the cruel actions of the English colonists.
This story was written at the time the novel was first coming into being in England. It is revolutionary, and becomes even more so when considered that it came from the pen of a woman. Aphra Behn was one of the first major female English writers, and is arguably the best of her time. This is is great (short) novel, definitely well-worth your time.
I think Virginia Woolf was correct in stating that Aphra Behn's career as a whole was more important than any particular work, but I suppose I still have to rate the novella as it stands. I will start by saying that it's historical context seems to be extremely important in understanding before reading it, and for a few reasons. First, Aphra Behn is considered to be the first woman to make a career for herself* (and without a male pseudonym!) from writing. Oroonoko was published in 1688 near her death to some success, but it's subject matter is just as significant, which brings me to my second point -- Oroonoko is also considered to be the first story written and published in English to show African slaves in a sympathetic manner. For these two reasons alone it is certainly worth reading, but it is not without it's faults as a novel.
If you have no problem with random capitalization, italicized dialog, and no chapter breaks, (it's a short novel so this didn't take it's toll on me) this is an "easy" adventure/tragedy to read. But the subject matter isn't always painless to uncover. As sympathetic to Oroonoko and his loyal Imoinda as it may be, it's sentiments are most definitely not modern and were at times difficult to read.
With everything going for it (and against it), Oroonoko is an interesting and important read that should continue to be discussed and not forgotten, like it nearly was.
*Also, before Behn had even begun her career as a writer, she was a spy for a bit after her husband croaked shortly after marriage. Behn is pretty rad.
And a note on the edition: The Art of the Novella series is great if you haven't already heard of it, the copy is slim and pantone-like. The paper is a nice stock too. I recommend this edition above all the others.
Upon his return, Oroonoko learns what happened to his love and finds her at the King's seraglio. they share a night together, but when the King finds out, he sells Imoinda as a slave, telling Oronooko that she died.
Despondent, Oroonoko is tricked by a British captain and becomes a slave. Taken to a new land, he accidently discovers his true love Imoinda and determines to escape the bonds of slavery no matter what it takes.
This story deals with true love and is probably one of the first novels to deal with the issue of slavery -- even though it wasn't a hotbed issue during the 1680's. The characters are very well-defined, either incredibly good or monstrous, even though they sometimes act more over-the-top or overly dramatic than normal. Oroonoko himself is even based upon a real prince that Behn had met from Surinam. It does take a bit to get used to the lingo and word usage of the 17th century, but I found myself seriously enjoying the story.