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Oroonoko, and Other Writings (Oxford…

Oroonoko, and Other Writings (Oxford World's Classics) (edition 1998)

by Aphra Behn, Paul Salzman (Editor)

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216378,257 (3.29)2
Title:Oroonoko, and Other Writings (Oxford World's Classics)
Authors:Aphra Behn
Other authors:Paul Salzman (Editor)
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (1998), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Books
Tags:Books, Narrative, 17th Century

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Oroonoko and Other Writings by Aphra Behn



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I picked this book up at a book sale because I recognized that it was on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list. I started reading on March 8, International Women’s Day, because Aphra Behn was lauded by Virginia Woolf as a figure of symbolic importance for women saying “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn...for it was she who earned them the right to speak.” As the author of the introduction to this book says “But this was a homage to an iconic figure, rather than to an actual writer.” Certainly modern readers will find her writing overblown and wordy and the plots more the stuff of Harlequin romances than literature. In addition to the title story there are five other stories and many poems included in this volume. I confess I only read four of the stories and one of the poems before tiring of the style of writing.
The title story concerns a slave in Surinam and Behn asserted that the story was true as she met and talked with Oroonoko when she visited Surinam. Oroonoko was the grandson of a chieftain in what is now Ghana in Africa. He was well educated having a Frenchman as a tutor. He fell in love with Imoinda, the daughter of a general who died saving Oroonoko. Imoinda was very lovely and when his grandfather learned that Oroonoko wanted to marry her he was intrigued. While Oroonoko was away with the army the grandfather married Imoinda and added her to his harem. Oroonoko was greatly angered and found a way to get into the harem and bed Imoinda. The grandfather discovered this and sent Imoinda into slavery (although Oroonoko was told she had been killed). Oroonoko wanted to die and he refused to lead his army into battle until the last moment when he decided to enter the fray hoping to die. Instead he was successful and captured many enemy to sell as slaves. The shipmaster he sold them to invited Oroonoko and his close companions onto his ship for a celebration. It was a ruse to capture Oroonoko for slavery though so Oroonoko ended up being sent to Surinam. There he discovered that Imoinda was alive and for a while he was very happy. However his life as a slave was not to his liking and he led a slave revolt. The revolt was put down, Oroonoko killed Imoinda to save her from punishment and he was killed for his part in leading the revolt.
For its time (1688) this story would have been remarkable for its depiction of the wrongs of slavery, the hypocrisy of Christians and the morality of non-Christians. I suppose that is the main reason for its inclusion on the list. However, now it seems old-fashioned and overly romantic as do the other stories in this volume.
Aphra Behn seems to have been an interesting woman although large parts of her history are a mystery. Her place and date of birth are unknown, as is her birth name. It’s not quite clear what she was doing in Surinam but surely it would not have been an ordinary destination for a young English woman in the 17th century. Later she spent time in Flanders where she was a spy for King Charles II, again an unusual placement for a woman at that time. On her return to England she started writing plays, with eleven to her credit ultimately, which were performed in the decade between 1670 and 1680. Then she started writing poetry and prose much of which was published during her lifetime. She died on 16 April 1689 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. ( )
  gypsysmom | Mar 15, 2018 |
This is a book by a 17th century English woman with a very sympathetic treatment of a slave. As such, it is certainly in a category by itself. It is worth reading because of its uniqueness but not because of its literary quality. I picked it up because another author saw parallels to the story of Manon Lescaux, which I did not really see.

It is a story of a royal African that is sent as a slave to Suriname. The book is surprising in many ways, including its sexual undercurrents - something not found in every 17th century novel. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 24, 2016 |
(This review is about the novel "Oroonoko" as I have not yet had a chance to read the other short works included in the text)

This is the second time I've had to read this for a class--this time it is included in my 17th and 18th century literature class, otherwise it is unlikely that I would have ever picked it up. Aphra Behn is clearly a talented writer. Better known for her plays, she also wrote poetry, short stories, and novels. "Oroonoko" is one of her novels, though it was later turned into a play by Thomas Southern. I actually recommend reading them together (See "Oroonoko: A tragedy" By Thomas Southern) though one should certainly read Behn first as Southern took enormous liberties with the original story which included adding comedy and changing the race of major characters. But it is by reading Southern and seeing the changes he made, that one can really appreciate Behn.

"Oroonoko" is about an African prince from Suriname who falls in love with a woman named Imoinda. He marries her but unfortunately the king falls in love with her beauty and claims her for himself. The lovers continue to meet in secret but are eventually discovered, and sold into slavery. Behn goes out of her way to describe Oroonoko as an honorable, intelligent, and handsome man who believes the best in vitually everybody he meets. He is a heroic warrior, who was only tricked into slavery because he is betrayed. The lovers eventually remeet in America (both as slaves), where Oroonoko continues to leave his mark on everyone he meets. It seems nobody can believe how kind and honest he is. Meanwhile everyone continues to fall in love with Imoinda because of her incredible beauty. Oroonoko eventually forms a rebellion in order for his family to escape their slavery. I will not spoil the ending except to say that it does not end happily for either of the lovers. There aren't any words to describe it except perhaps-- gruesome.

In all, one can hardly read it without thinking of Dryden or Shakespeare, but it is still an impressive work that needs to be more widely read than it is now. ( )
  Kegsoccer | Jan 13, 2012 |
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