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Oroonoko & Other Stories (Konemann Classics)

by Aphra Behn

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Fractured Fairy Tales
Oroonoko And Other Stories

Aphra Behn’s stories are akin to fairy tales, but rather than the fair maiden and gallant youth ending each story with their nuptials, the usual end is death for one or both of them. The characters generally fit the fairy tale mold of beautiful ladies, brave young swains, over-protective parents, and a few deceivers with ulterior motives. There are the usual beautiful eyes, soft hair, blushing cheeks, and swooning on the female side, matched by the handsome, wealthy, and courtly on the male side. There are stock roles of maidservants, and settings of castles and convents. The device of coincidence is used to move the plot, but there is nothing contrived in the very realistic dialogue, and in the descriptions of human emotions, and notably the fickleness of emotion. The basic weakness and selfishness of the characters is shown, and yet we do not despise them for these traits; rather we recognize our own natures. Unlike fairy tales, the characters in these stories (with the exception of Oroonoko) do not always live up to an ideal of selflessness in love; instead, as in life, the characters are swayed by practicalities such as money, time, propinquity, and prestige—not to mention the waxing and waning of passion for one’s (temporarily?) beloved. Human frailty and even human evil is not ignored, nor channeled into a two-dimensional allegorical character, but is depicted as it appears in real life—mixed with goodness, and prompted by desire.
The premises of the stories set up our expectations for happy endings—but we are disappointed each time. The construct we wish to place on these stories is similar to the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives. Aphra Behn shows us that the chaos of our circumstances and the ungovernability of our emotions will not fit within the confines of pretty stories.
  Banbury | Apr 3, 2010 |
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