So disappointed in this copy. The font is a size 8 and hard to read, the margins are 2inches around, and the 'book' appears much more like a magazine. The pages don't even have numbers! Terrible copy to use for study. Quite annoyed as sold by Amazon, fulfilled by them, even printed by them! But at such a low standard of quality.
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."
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."
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.
First published in 1688 this is probably the most read of Aphra Behn’s works today, indeed probably the only piece that most people have even heard of. As a novel it is still important, not only because it is a short prose work written by a woman, but also as it influenced other writings in the novel form, and therefore whether you actually enjoy the tale or not you can never forget its place in our literary landscape.
Starting off in modern day Ghana the story concludes in modern day Suriname, where the main character, Oroonoko has been brought as a slave. Oroonoko is a prince of his tribe and is in love and betrothed to Inoinda, but alas for Oroonoko ,his grandfather the king, wants her for himself. As Oroonoko is about to find out, the path of true love is most definitely not always an easy one. Taking a course of action in his own country ultimately leads to Inoinda being liable to execution, but this the king though on the face of it claiming that the deed has been done, instead sells her into slavery. And Oroonoko himself finds that he is taken into slavery with others, due to the wiles of an English captain.
Of course this is a novel, and so we know that these lovers are fated to meet at the destination for slaves. As the story continues we find out the ultimate fate for this couple.
This book still entertains, and as modern readers we will see more and ask more questions than her audience at the time. Behn talks about the magnificent scarring of these noble savages, but we know that this isn’t so, cuts on the face are not the same as is described here. Also surprising is that Behn paints the natives of Suriname and the black slaves as noble savages but she never manages to explain why if Oroonoko is so noble his people sell others into slavery. We all know that whatever colour or ethnicity you are no one is really any nobler than anyone else. Of course as you read this you do see that although Behn does seem to be anti-slavery she isn’t anti-colonialism, and all that entails, and she doesn’t really lay stress on the horrors of slavery that authors at a later date started doing, she only touches on this as slaves meet their punishment for revolting.
I must admit that some of Behn’s descriptions of animals in Suriname beggar belief especially the tiger as large as a cow to name just one. To us this is a piece of entertainment, but to those early readers most would have taken this as fact. That Oronooko leads a slave revolt is something that did occur throughout the history of slavery but whether there really was a person with that name who led one we will never know, although parts of his actions in Suriname can be compared to the actions of others.
Now to get to the nitty gritty of this and for you to consider whether it is for you. If you are just looking for a book to read and lose yourself in, an ideal piece of escapism if you like, then I am sorry but I don’t think this will satisfy you. If however you want something that will show you what early novels were like and how influences and other factors altered their styles over the years then this is something that you will want to read.
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...
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.
Novella of a good length. The romance is well written and the author creates empathy effectively. The tragedy part is gruesome, but well executed. If you like topics about slavery, old romances or being the underdog, this is for you. I didn't love it though, but it's more about personal taste.