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Oroonoko: Or the History of the Royal Slave (Girlebooks Classics)

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"When Prince Oroonoko's passion for the virtuous Imoinda arouses the jealousy of his grandfather, the lovers are cast into slavery and transported from Africa to the colony of Surinam. Oroonoko's noble bearing soon wins the respect of his English captors, but his struggle for freedom brings about his destruction. Inspired by Aphra Behn's visit to Surinam, Oroonoko reflects "When Prince Oroonoko's passion for the virtuous Imoinda arouses the jealousy of his grandfather, the lovers are cast into slavery and transported from Africa to the colony of Surinam. Oroonoko's noble bearing soon wins the respect of his English captors, but his struggle for freedom brings about his destruction. Inspired by Aphra Behn's visit to Surinam, Oroonoko reflects the author's romantic view of native peoples as in 'the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin'. The novel also reveals Behn's ambiguous attitude to African slavery - while she favoured it as a means to strengthen England's rule, her powerful and moving work conveys its injustice and brutality." This new edition of Oroonoko is based on the first printed version of 1688, and includes a chronology, further reading and notes. In her introduction, Janet Todd examines Aphra Behn's views of slavery, colonization and politics, and her position as a professional woman writer in Restoration.


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"When Prince Oroonoko's passion for the virtuous Imoinda arouses the jealousy of his grandfather, the lovers are cast into slavery and transported from Africa to the colony of Surinam. Oroonoko's noble bearing soon wins the respect of his English captors, but his struggle for freedom brings about his destruction. Inspired by Aphra Behn's visit to Surinam, Oroonoko reflects "When Prince Oroonoko's passion for the virtuous Imoinda arouses the jealousy of his grandfather, the lovers are cast into slavery and transported from Africa to the colony of Surinam. Oroonoko's noble bearing soon wins the respect of his English captors, but his struggle for freedom brings about his destruction. Inspired by Aphra Behn's visit to Surinam, Oroonoko reflects the author's romantic view of native peoples as in 'the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin'. The novel also reveals Behn's ambiguous attitude to African slavery - while she favoured it as a means to strengthen England's rule, her powerful and moving work conveys its injustice and brutality." This new edition of Oroonoko is based on the first printed version of 1688, and includes a chronology, further reading and notes. In her introduction, Janet Todd examines Aphra Behn's views of slavery, colonization and politics, and her position as a professional woman writer in Restoration.

30 review for Oroonoko: Or the History of the Royal Slave (Girlebooks Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    A 17th century precursor to the novel, "Oroonoko" condemns slavery not so much for its intrinsic evil but because it can oppress a man of true nobility--a man like the African prince Oroonoko. It is well written, moves briskly, and provides a fascinating contemporary glimpse not only of the slave trade but of the indigenous inhabitants of South America as well. A 17th century precursor to the novel, "Oroonoko" condemns slavery not so much for its intrinsic evil but because it can oppress a man of true nobility--a man like the African prince Oroonoko. It is well written, moves briskly, and provides a fascinating contemporary glimpse not only of the slave trade but of the indigenous inhabitants of South America as well.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Perhaps the perfect thing to read after Kafka's The Trial, I found this discomforting and curious by turns, the author and the story both are slippery, the boundaries between reportage, myth and fiction unclear and maybe unimportant (in the finest traditions of fiction). Aphra Behn herself is a mysterious person, presumed to have been born in Kent, maybe Canterbury, it is debated who her parents were though it is a strong probability that she had some. She spent sometime in Suriname, a Dutch colo Perhaps the perfect thing to read after Kafka's The Trial, I found this discomforting and curious by turns, the author and the story both are slippery, the boundaries between reportage, myth and fiction unclear and maybe unimportant (in the finest traditions of fiction). Aphra Behn herself is a mysterious person, presumed to have been born in Kent, maybe Canterbury, it is debated who her parents were though it is a strong probability that she had some. She spent sometime in Suriname, a Dutch colony from the later 1660s, but first settled by the English who introduced plantation slavery there, powered by imported African persons. Behn returned from Suriname to England, claiming to be a 'widow' to a Dutchman, after the restoration of Charles II, she worked for a while in Holland as a spy, but wasn't paid her expenses, despite this she was a loyal supporter of Charles II, then of his brother James II. Since the spy game didn't pay, she turned to playwriting and did well writing Restoration comedies for the London stage, but also some poems and pieces of fiction including this curious and remarkable work, a novella published in 1688, a year before her death in 1689. In it she returns to Suriname where she was twenty or so years earlier. The story which she says she wrote in one continuous session, without a break, purports to be the story of the eponymous hero, an African Prince who she met and knew in Suriname. The story is very short and I don't want to spoil you all with details of the narrative, but it is possible that many odd things are going on. Perhaps the story is mostly invention, Jenny Uglow in her study of the first ten years of Charles II's restoration regime A Gambling Man, tells us that restoration stories were very popular in the restoration period as you will not fall off your chairs in shock to read, kings and Princes unjustly exiled and returning to their rightful kingdoms was the political story of the reading public's lives and they delighted to see such on the stage, nor was the taste limited to European heroes, one play The Indian Queen, was set in Mexico and seemingly was inspired by the story of the conquest of the Aztecs. And one of Charles II's nicknames was 'Black Boy' (he was more olive skinned in colour than the more typical English lobster red) indeed the physical description of our hero Prince Oroonoko, with his Roman nose and black hair falling loosely down to his shoulders, reminds me more than a little of the Merry Monarch. The central idea is the arch-conservative one that there's such divinity doth hedge a King although Oroonoko becomes a slave, his nobility is evident not just to the author but also to his owner, his fellow slaves but also to the indigenous inhabitants of Suriname. Ok, while we have a hero who is an African Prince, if he is based on a real character, do we admire him because Behn has presented him 'Hollywood style' - acceptable to a broad bottomed audience - so he looks a bit like Charles II, has similar tastes and learning as a 17th century European gentleman, and who pointedly sulks in his tent like Achilles at one point? Or can we find him to be an alien enough figure to be expanding the boundaries of the expectable and the possible for her 17th century English audience? Or is he just an updated version of Othello ? Noble, passionate, and ruined because he trusts the word of a white man? In any case this is a novella by a English woman, from the dawn of the Imperial age and the Atlantic trade, set in Africa and a colony, that has as it's hero a black man. The work repays any curiosity you may feel. It seems in so many ways so odd taken all together that I am inclined to think that it is based on some experience from Behn's own life, fiction strains to be believable in a way that fact doesn't bother to. But it is not an anti-slavery tract, although the Quakers were complaining and protesting against slavery from the 1670s, in this book slavery is an accepted part of human society, Oroonoko's people sell the captives they take in war as slaves to such merchants as come from Europe, the noble prince gifts his sweetheart with 150 slaves as a love token, before they themselves are enslaved. But then again we might read this as a literary conceit, from enslaver to enslaved. Is the story true at all or a political fable? Odd, no sooner was this sad, savage story published, than James II was driven off his throne deposed by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William III. The exile returned into exile. There is something interesting going on with regard to religion, the work was dedicated to a Catholic nobleman who is praised for his ability to explain the faith. The Africans have their own religion, but are all the same decent and upstanding folk, the English colonists are Christian but dishonest and untrustworthy, and prepared to make cruel non-culinary use of chille pepper powder. Behn struggles with the notion of beauty, in places it seems that if your skin tone is not white, that you can not be beautiful, in others she points to Oroonoko's ebony skin colour as particularly handsome and impressive, while she does mention his roman nose and that his hair has been teased out and so approximating European male beauty standards of the time, she is also taken by his distinctly non-European ritual scarification. Perhaps she had a simple notion of beauty as Europeanness which had been shaken by her life experience, but not replaced by a generous and universal concept of human beauty. The names apparently are close enough that they might be actual ones from west Africa for all that Oroonoko sounds suspiciously like a certain river (view spoiler)[ or if you are British and of a certain age like a womble (hide spoiler)] , perhaps there are still aspects of Behn that can be studied further and some mysterious that can be resolved. A fine unsettling work of fiction.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rowena

    I quite liked this book and would have probably given it a 5 had it not been for the racist depictions in the book. Behn depicts the protagonist, Oroonoko, as being extremely regal and handsome because of his European nose and straight hair, among other things. I guess since the book was written in the 17th Century, racism and ignorance about Africa and black people was to be expected. Apart from that, the story was pretty good, a tragic love story. The descriptions of Surinam were also beautifu I quite liked this book and would have probably given it a 5 had it not been for the racist depictions in the book. Behn depicts the protagonist, Oroonoko, as being extremely regal and handsome because of his European nose and straight hair, among other things. I guess since the book was written in the 17th Century, racism and ignorance about Africa and black people was to be expected. Apart from that, the story was pretty good, a tragic love story. The descriptions of Surinam were also beautiful.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    What I LOVED: that the love story is Vivid & the plot is Alive. But all this matters not when placed on the other side of the spectrum where Misery is Aware and Dismemberment is the ultimate form of Destruction. I was left wowed. A Must!!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    There are several other reviews on Goodreads (e.g. Jan-Maat’s) which cover the aspects of Oroonoko most often studied and discussed : colonialism, and what it shows about racism in the late 17th century. And of course this is also a major subject of the very interesting introduction in this Penguin edition by Janet Todd, also a biographer of Behn. Even though I also went into the book aware of the role of social class and hierarchy in it - that the narrator considers it wrong for Oroonoko to be There are several other reviews on Goodreads (e.g. Jan-Maat’s) which cover the aspects of Oroonoko most often studied and discussed : colonialism, and what it shows about racism in the late 17th century. And of course this is also a major subject of the very interesting introduction in this Penguin edition by Janet Todd, also a biographer of Behn. Even though I also went into the book aware of the role of social class and hierarchy in it - that the narrator considers it wrong for Oroonoko to be enslaved because he is a prince, rather than because slavery in general is wrong - it was still curious to see the depth of actual reverence and extra value a 17th century monarchist writer gave characters based on royal birth. (Though in the introduction readers learn of one opponent of slavery who was a contemporary of Behn's, Thomas Tryon, also an early vegetarian. And some of Prince Oroonoko's speeches in the second half of the book seem to decry slavery as a whole.) The veneration of royalty seemed quite medieval, but as a reaction against the Cromwellian period it makes sense. Behn's life must have been very marked by political turmoil: childhood during the Civil War, teens during the Commonwealth, a young adult at the Restoration, and seemingly someone with a temperament suited to bawdy Restoration culture. What did surprise me about the story, and which I would not have known about but for the introduction, was that the grievously wronged tragic hero Prince Oroonoko is a representation of James II, by the staunch Stuart-supporting Behn. (Obvs this seen as is all kinds of wrong today, a black slave representing a white king who didn't get what he wanted though still got to live the life of a nobleman in exile. But yeah.) I'd always expected the text to be quite dry, but it actually fits the bawdy and bloody paradigm associated with a lot of 17th century plays. The lulls in between can be a bit boring in the same way as I found when I was younger and had to read Volpone and some plays by Thomas Middleton. Although it's very short, and it was less boring than expected, it still sort of took me ages to read because of being very busy for a bit and then a week where I was exhausted and couldn't concentrate for more than 10 minutes on anything other than a brightly-lit computer screen without falling asleep. Near the beginning of Oroonoko is a melodramatic harem scenario fit for porn, featuring an elder king one could consider a stand-in for Charles II or Louis XIV and their famous sexual appetites. The narrator has sympathy for Imoinda, but it's the lurid situation that stands out, and one can't help but think of Behn as a writer with Restoration sensibilities who was part of the same literary world as Rochester. And the novella ends with the sorts of scenes of early modern torture and execution that, although I've been reading about 16th century history for most of my life, still make me feel sick if I hear about them without warning as I did here. This truly is a melodrama, and despite everything artificial and clumsy about the story, there were points when I was cross with Trefry and the narrator for not doing more to help. Once I was awake enough to read the second half properly, I found it emotionally involving despite all the ways in which it does not conform to modern literary standards. On a different level, Oroonoko is also interesting for Behn's observations about life in Surinam. The treatment and punishment of slaves will be horrifically familiar to anyone who has read about that in other more famous colonial contexts. But the first-hand details of the South American wildlife, of food, of how Indians and white settlers dressed, interacted and traded are not something one hears about very often in British literature as most of it was written by authors who stayed at home, and besides British colonialists never had a large foothold in mainland South America. The copious notes mean that there is almost never an unusual word-meaning unglossed (even things like 'sensible', that anyone who understands the title of Sense & Sensibility would know) and so in this Penguin edition at least, it is considerably easier to read than some might expect. So, um, yes, more interesting and more of a rollercoaster for the reader than I thought it would be. In some ways (assumptions about boringness and density) I didn't need to be quite as trepidatious about it as I was in all the years I hadn't read it (in an old Norton Anthology, and then a paper copy of this edition in 2013). Instead I would have benefited from knowing that it can actually be emotionally involving, and, towards the end, gorily brutal. (I'm still feeling a little queasy as I'm finishing writing this review.) So, another author finally and belatedly read for what, if looked at that way, is my longest-running reading project (est. 1994), at least one work by everyone from The Divine Comedy's The Booklovers. And one mentioned in episode synposes for the upcoming and BBC Novels That Shaped Our World series. (The Penguin cover illustration is a detail of King Gaspard from Bosch's 'Adoration of the Magi' c.1495.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    There's a quiz on this tomorrow that's likely to consist of 'Who was the main character?' and 'What was the climax?' and 'Name three unconnected plot points that demonstrate ______' (It's been a while since my last English Lit class and I'm totally making shit up), so I'll get my digressive What I Think About This Thing out of the way here. Honestly, it was a windfall that this was assigned as short things make me nervous and I end up putting off reading them for ages, so a "Hey sup have a novel There's a quiz on this tomorrow that's likely to consist of 'Who was the main character?' and 'What was the climax?' and 'Name three unconnected plot points that demonstrate ______' (It's been a while since my last English Lit class and I'm totally making shit up), so I'll get my digressive What I Think About This Thing out of the way here. Honestly, it was a windfall that this was assigned as short things make me nervous and I end up putting off reading them for ages, so a "Hey sup have a novella which you'll be quizzed on in two days kthxbai." wasn't nearly as awful as one would assume. Of course, keep in mind my constant appetite for classics/difficult things/first women to ______ if you're thinking of signing up for any variation on the theme of Neoclassical to Romantic British (English with a dash of Irish/Welsh/Scottish/you understand). It's safe to say I'm the only person in my class who was thrilled at the prospect of this. The only excuse for this is that it was published 326 years ago. That's long enough for it to become a window into a history that plays out all too well today because, guess what, winners like to be winners and the best way to keep winning is to plant an idea (Inception + actual ideological implications on reality) that being a psychopath (winner) is Just How Life Is and then let it grow into a civilization/supremacy that's alive and well today. Behn is a good example of this because her proto-Uncle Tom's Cabin piece is a good mix of all the bits and pieces that go into racism and make it such an effective virus. Gatekeeping via European standards of beauty, pitting one non-European group against another while erasing the complex conflict with vague categorizations such as "anti-Africa" and racism itself, creating stereotypes of black people naturally having a higher pain tolerance, equating a good slave master with a good human being, "noble savage", "Orientalism", the fact that this is a classic while narratives of Ferguson protesters are being fended off with "Why are you so angry all the time?", "There's still hope for them so long as they get the right European teacher!", and a whole host of others that are still being played out, reinforced, and every so often deconstructed all over the corners of Tumblr. The fact that all of this is likely to be passed over for the test-acing essay on "How does Behn's writing style compare with those of her peers?" and other formulaic analyses necessary for eventually being able to earn one's food is yet another aspect. When all that's said and done, what's interesting is the tale of how this piece made its way into the canon and has survived all these long years. The first woman (supposedly) to support herself via writing, the multiple wholesale condemnations of Christianity and Europeans made during the course of the narrative, the irony that would be considered satire if it didn't involve cultural enslavement and willful genocide, the fact that it's pretty readable, the combination a bunch of genres that weren't being combined at the time, and many other unusual aspects make for a peculiar creation whose survival is still a question when one looks at all the female-authored experimentations that have fallen by the wayside. I wouldn't be surprised if the story of its inclusion is a messy heap of events unto itself, a tale full of white feminists and historical reclamation where cries of "Racist!" rent the air of rooms filled only with white people and so many points are missed by so many liberal academics all the live long day. I'd laugh at it if 326 years hadn't meant shit in the long run. P.S. There's Islamophobia in this. If the CH shooting is used as a reason for perpetuated genocide, I do not stand with the winners.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Aphra Behn (AF-ra Ben) was a popular playwright and dabbly novelist in the late 1600s, part of the gap between Shakespeare and novels. Bawdy, free-thinking, perpetually broke, perversely royalist, and probably atheist, she fell badly out of favor in the next few centuries and is now making a tepid comeback - tepid because as much as we'd love to have a radical(ish) female protonovelist in the canon, Behn is only okay as a writer. Oroonoko has a pretty good plot: the titular archetypal noble savag Aphra Behn (AF-ra Ben) was a popular playwright and dabbly novelist in the late 1600s, part of the gap between Shakespeare and novels. Bawdy, free-thinking, perpetually broke, perversely royalist, and probably atheist, she fell badly out of favor in the next few centuries and is now making a tepid comeback - tepid because as much as we'd love to have a radical(ish) female protonovelist in the canon, Behn is only okay as a writer. Oroonoko has a pretty good plot: the titular archetypal noble savage is torn from his hot fiancee and betrayed into slavery in Surinam, where he's miraculously reunited with his fiancee, learns to distrust white dudes, and fights for his freedom. It moves quickly (it's very short), it's fairly interesting, and the end is very powerful. There are some details about life in early colonized South America that are neat; Behn wrote from personal experience. But the prose is functional at best. The voice of the narrator is confused, and the whole thing feels dully expository. At this very early stage, when the concept of prose was still being invented, novelists tended to do this: "And then the savage said that he was unhappy here." Just stating the facts. There is - curiously, given that Behn was a dramatist foremost - virtually no dialogue in the entire book. About forty years later, Daniel Defoe would inject a bit more life into his prose, although still with only the dimmest concept of getting into his characters' heads. As a stepping stone in the evolution of the novel, this is great to have in your experience. As a plot, it's excellent. As a book, it's fine but unlikely to become one of your favorites.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zaphirenia

    Some books you read for what they have to give you and some books you read due to the circumstances under which they were written. This is a story by Aphra Behn, a woman who lived and wrote during the Restoration in England. Behn was one of the first women to write in order to make ends meet, something not very common in the 17th century. In the early 20th century she was made more popular when Virginia Woolf stated that "all women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, Some books you read for what they have to give you and some books you read due to the circumstances under which they were written. This is a story by Aphra Behn, a woman who lived and wrote during the Restoration in England. Behn was one of the first women to write in order to make ends meet, something not very common in the 17th century. In the early 20th century she was made more popular when Virginia Woolf stated that "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 their minds". And when I researched a little more, I was very impressed to discover that Aphra Behn was not only a writer of theatrical plays and prose but also a spy sent by the King George II in Antwerp and a very politically energetic woman. So I read Oroonoko mainly because I was intrigued by the life and personality of the writer and much less because I was interested in the story itself. And partly I was right, because it is difficult to be particularly impressed by Oroonoko in 2018. The plot is quite simple: an African prince falls in love with a fair lady, Imoinda, but his cruel grandfather, also charmed by Imoinda's beauty, takes her away from him and finally sells her as a slave. Oroonoko is also sold as a slave and departs for Surinam where he is reunited with Imoinda but faces the ugly truth: the white people are not so keen on keeping their promise to him and grant him and the woman he loves their liberty. Behn gives us a rather gloom picture of slavery in the 17th century. Although she was ahead of her time, it is obvious that she did not think of slavery as cruel and absurd. She rather believed that slavery was necessary for progress and justified when in time of war. She adopts a more critical view towards slavery as a result of trade but still this is deemed acceptable. In fact, Oroonoko himself, when negotiating the terms of his release, he offers to provide a large number of slaves to take his place once he regains his freedom. Another aspect of this book is the depiction of native American people in the 17th century. Behn describes them under a rather romantic spectrum as uncivilized but also honourable people who know not how to harm or deceive unless they have made contact with European influence. The tale of the noble savage, very popular throughout the global human literature, is intensely presented in Oroonoko. All in all, my world was not shocked having read Oroonoko. But I am happy to have read a book by this remarkable woman and would most probably read another.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    Oroonoko is a complicated novel for me to rate. 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 pseudonym!) from writin Oroonoko is a complicated novel for me to rate. 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 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adira

    I can sum up my general feelings about this book in a well known quote by Maya Angelou: "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." Oroonoko really could've avoided half of his misfortune if he had learned this principle after he was abducted into slavery by someone he considered a friend. However, he decided he was going to repeatedly try to apply his African moral system into his new surroundings and go by the "honor system" taking everybody at their word. No matter how man I can sum up my general feelings about this book in a well known quote by Maya Angelou: "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." Oroonoko really could've avoided half of his misfortune if he had learned this principle after he was abducted into slavery by someone he considered a friend. However, he decided he was going to repeatedly try to apply his African moral system into his new surroundings and go by the "honor system" taking everybody at their word. No matter how many times Oroonoko was burnt by his masters who masqueraded as friends and allies, he continued to trust them until it was too late. Soooo...yeah, as you can see from the previous paragraph, I had some serious strong feelings about the book. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning about history especially, African/Afro-Caribbean/African-American History. Aphra Behn's book is fairly short with the actual story weighing in at approximately 60-70 pages. Being a person who tends to shy away from classics, I can honestly tell you that this book was a good read and kept me intrigued for the whole story. It had romance, adventure, history, tomfoolery...basically, it had EVERYTHING!

  11. 5 out of 5

    bridge raymundo

    white saviour bullshit and i really wish it would be taken off so many foundational syllabi because this is the second time i’ve had to read it for a class and if a student isn’t given the proper framework and lens to read this text it’s extremely dangerous. if I hear one argument in tutorial tomorrow about how Behn was a white woman in the 1600s and didn’t intend to be racist blah blah blah... i’m going to yell at my zoom call. There’s no excuse for how BIPOC are written in this novel. She inte white saviour bullshit and i really wish it would be taken off so many foundational syllabi because this is the second time i’ve had to read it for a class and if a student isn’t given the proper framework and lens to read this text it’s extremely dangerous. if I hear one argument in tutorial tomorrow about how Behn was a white woman in the 1600s and didn’t intend to be racist blah blah blah... i’m going to yell at my zoom call. There’s no excuse for how BIPOC are written in this novel. She intentionally writes about Black and Indigenous people in a way that denies her any onus in the consequences of white supremacy and it will never be okay or debatable. Behn writes a grossly offensive fictional depiction of enslavement and claims it to be truth, and romanticizes Black pain, violence, and death. The fact that this text is still insisted on within the English canon is insane to me. To any professors who may come across this, PLEASE LISTEN— you can teach this text without forcing your students to read it all. Or at the very least give your students, particularly BIPOC students, prior knowledge of the content and the option to not read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    William Gwynne

    My full review on BookNest - BookNest - Oroonoko Virginia Woolf said Oroonoko was the first novel. What makes the context of this story even more remarkable is that if we agree with this, then the first novelist was a woman, written in the late 17th century. “A poet is a painter in his way, he draws to the life, but in another kind; we draw the nobler part, the soul and the mind; the pictures of the pen shall outlast those of the pencil, and even worlds themselves.” It is a story told in an almost My full review on BookNest - BookNest - Oroonoko Virginia Woolf said Oroonoko was the first novel. What makes the context of this story even more remarkable is that if we agree with this, then the first novelist was a woman, written in the late 17th century. “A poet is a painter in his way, he draws to the life, but in another kind; we draw the nobler part, the soul and the mind; the pictures of the pen shall outlast those of the pencil, and even worlds themselves.” It is a story told in an almost biographical manner about Prince Oroonoko, who lived in the Caribbean Islands, and whom the author was in awe of. Behn forms his character with a sense of realism despite his idealised nature. He is the symbol of honour and deserves respect of all. But unto this he is stripped of his rank and taken as a slave. Yet he maintains his integrity and the impression of his personality on all he meets. A particular favourite aspect of mine in this read was the romantic thread, which I do not often say. Unlike so many stories I have read, it appeared natural, despite also being idealised The way Behn implemented this into the story gave the story a humanity that was needed for a connection to be made with Oroonoko. The prose of Behn does not focus on emotive language, but rather tells the story of what is happening in a factual, fluid and immersive manner, which cleverly presented the setting and culture and characters of all parties so effectively. But, Oroonoko is a product of its time, especially with the topic of colonialism. Behn appears to show two opinions on slavery. By having slavery as the means in which Oroonoko is tragically stripped from his power, It is projected as barbarous and a tool of injustice, but paradoxically Behn shows support by depicting its importance in sustaining the British Empire that is heralded as a great ideal. “Where there is no novelty, there can be no curiosity" The fact that Oroonoko was inspired largely by true facts and then idealised and romanticised added an extra does of realism into this novel, but also made it even more interesting. In this multifaceted novel, we are introduced to an inspiring and evocative story, memorable characters of both a loveable and hatable disposition, and the fluid prose of Aphra Behn. A short, thought-provoking read. 4.5/5 STARS

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    From the first professional woman writer, published in 1688, this is a story about the enslaved grandson of an African King. We are treated to numerous descriptions of his beauty, and the limitlessness of true love, yet not spared the details of his torturous life or gruesome end. I have now obeyed Virginia Woolf’s famous directive to women to “let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” I was pleased that, while this story reflect From the first professional woman writer, published in 1688, this is a story about the enslaved grandson of an African King. We are treated to numerous descriptions of his beauty, and the limitlessness of true love, yet not spared the details of his torturous life or gruesome end. I have now obeyed Virginia Woolf’s famous directive to women to “let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” I was pleased that, while this story reflected the ignorance and attitudes of its time, it was still an attempt to reveal the human toll of injustice, and I let my flowers fall with sincere gratitude.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrea AKA Catsos Person

    This book got off to a rather dull, though interesting beginning, but improved as I continued to read. The author was ahead of her time in more ways than one.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dream

    Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is theorized in style and format to possibly be one of the first novels in English, connecting the worlds of Europe, Africa, and America in a tale that is common in plot but uncommon in character. Written by the so-called "bad girl" of her time, Behn's novel explores firs the foreign world of Coramantien and its royalty. The title character of the Royal Prince then finds himself with soldiers and war captains with the natives of Surinam, and then with its colonists. Separat Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is theorized in style and format to possibly be one of the first novels in English, connecting the worlds of Europe, Africa, and America in a tale that is common in plot but uncommon in character. Written by the so-called "bad girl" of her time, Behn's novel explores firs the foreign world of Coramantien and its royalty. The title character of the Royal Prince then finds himself with soldiers and war captains with the natives of Surinam, and then with its colonists. Separated in different social classes, the main character, who is black, is deemed royalty in one world, and slave in another. This is just one the main dualities presented in this text. Race, social class, gender, age, life and death all play a part in this manuscript. The interesting story makes definite commentary on the role of women and of religion as shown by the contrast in cultures. Oroonoko, while not an immediately likable character in his stoicism, is given the effect of reader appeal through the other characters in the text. His love interest, Imoinda, shines. Dismissed during its publishing as vulgar and sensational because of the author's "warm" attitude toward sexuality and violence, Oroonoko is now placed among the treasures of British literature. Its value as a story, a novel, and a commentary of social life and slavery is highly valuable. Oroonoko is one of the only known novels written by this author, who has yet to be fully discovered and publicized. For a long while, Behn was negatively criticized for both her work and her social life outside of her writing. She was also notorious for her torrid relationships with other well-known people of her time, and for working a provocative job as a spy. She changed the definition of feminine in presenting works where women are objects subjugated to male carnal desire, and punished for going outside this subjugated sphere. She champions the female as a deliberately sexual being who is punished for being so. Other works of hers include a large work of poetry that is slowly finding its way into mainstream literature anthologies. Her contributions to both prose and poetry have contributed greatly to feminism and to literature.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A book more for historians then the usual novel readers some interesting parts but ultimately dull. Only giving this two stars, why? so obsessed with letting everyone know it's a woman writer, which is completely unnecessary. It's like having an author named David and saying he's a man writer! Subsequently, in the need to state this they have spelt the authors last name as Benn instead of Behn. They need to pay attention to what needs to be put on the back cover rather than worrying about "we mus A book more for historians then the usual novel readers some interesting parts but ultimately dull. Only giving this two stars, why? so obsessed with letting everyone know it's a woman writer, which is completely unnecessary. It's like having an author named David and saying he's a man writer! Subsequently, in the need to state this they have spelt the authors last name as Benn instead of Behn. They need to pay attention to what needs to be put on the back cover rather than worrying about "we must let everyone know it's a woman" and ignoring the correct spelling of the authors name. PLEASE PENGUIN GET PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT THE BOOKS AND NOT THEIR PERSONAL ISSUES.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    ( 1.5 STARS ) Incredible story but I feel like the narrative made it a really slow read and therefore I couldn't enjoy it as much as I probably would have done if it was written more like a novel or if I watched it as a film. ( 1.5 STARS ) Incredible story but I feel like the narrative made it a really slow read and therefore I couldn't enjoy it as much as I probably would have done if it was written more like a novel or if I watched it as a film.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cphe

    Tragic novella of Prince Oroonoko and his descent into slavery. A story of racism, violence, betrayal and enduring love. The most interesting aspect of the novella - it was written in the 17th century. Hadn't heard of the novelist prior to the Boxall 1000 list. Tragic novella of Prince Oroonoko and his descent into slavery. A story of racism, violence, betrayal and enduring love. The most interesting aspect of the novella - it was written in the 17th century. Hadn't heard of the novelist prior to the Boxall 1000 list.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vaishali

    And the debate about Oroonoko goes on. It's true that the authenticity of locations is suspect (tigers in Surinam?), and that intercultural relationships form sugary caricatures. However Behn redeems herself with the mutiny scene (see below) and the punishment scene. If Behn were a cook, she'd make a meal not to feed you, but display her spices: royalty, harem intrigue, true love, exotic locales, and murder. More is done with far less ingredients in, say, Shakespeare's Hamlet. Oroonoko/Caesar's And the debate about Oroonoko goes on. It's true that the authenticity of locations is suspect (tigers in Surinam?), and that intercultural relationships form sugary caricatures. However Behn redeems herself with the mutiny scene (see below) and the punishment scene. If Behn were a cook, she'd make a meal not to feed you, but display her spices: royalty, harem intrigue, true love, exotic locales, and murder. More is done with far less ingredients in, say, Shakespeare's Hamlet. Oroonoko/Caesar's awesome soliloquy : “My dear friends and fellow-sufferers, should we be slaves to an unknown people? Have they vanquished us nobly in fight? Have they won us in honorable battle? And are we by the chance of war become their slaves? ...We are bought and sold like apes or monkeys, to be the sport of women, fools, and cowards; and the support of rogues and runagates, that have abandoned their own countries for rapine, murders, theft, and villainies. Do you not hear every day how they upbraid each other with infamy of life, below the wildest savages? And shall we render obedience to such a degenerate race, who have no one human virtue left, to distinguish them from the vilest creatures? Will you, I say, suffer the lash from such hands?” .

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mounaim kamel

    It is a story of an African prince and his beloved wife Imoinda, who are captured by the British and brought to Surinam as slaves. Because of Oroonoko’s high social status as a former prince, superior education, and spectacular physical appearance, Oroonoko is never sent to work. He was asking for his freedom over and over while they feed him with lies, Oroonoko realizes he will never be free… I don’t want to say more, all i can say is that i had mixed feeling for the book and the character since It is a story of an African prince and his beloved wife Imoinda, who are captured by the British and brought to Surinam as slaves. Because of Oroonoko’s high social status as a former prince, superior education, and spectacular physical appearance, Oroonoko is never sent to work. He was asking for his freedom over and over while they feed him with lies, Oroonoko realizes he will never be free… I don’t want to say more, all i can say is that i had mixed feeling for the book and the character since he was selling slaves himself before ending up a slave

  21. 5 out of 5

    kaelan

    It is important to realize that at the time Oroonoko was written, our modern concept of the novel simply didn't exist. This perhaps excuses several of the more glaring 'problems' with this work. I mean: yes, it's a very uneven piece of literature—despite an absence of chapter breaks (perhaps they haven’t been invented yet?), the text fluctuates wildly between tedious exposition (sadly, this applies to the entire first half of the text), exhilarating proto-travel lit (Behn was a seasoned traveler It is important to realize that at the time Oroonoko was written, our modern concept of the novel simply didn't exist. This perhaps excuses several of the more glaring 'problems' with this work. I mean: yes, it's a very uneven piece of literature—despite an absence of chapter breaks (perhaps they haven’t been invented yet?), the text fluctuates wildly between tedious exposition (sadly, this applies to the entire first half of the text), exhilarating proto-travel lit (Behn was a seasoned traveler herself) and tear-jerking romance. But what truly sold Oroonoko to me was the ending (don't worry, I won’t spoil it). All I'll say is that I was expecting Behn to take an easy, safe way out, and she didn't. The gruesome intensity of the last ten pages really makes up for tediousness of the first thirty or so. UPDATE: Having read this again (this time for class), I found myself reconciled with many of the so-called 'problems' that bothered me the first time around. The big one—i.e. the tediousness of the first half—was resolved, I think, by the knowledge that the story doesn't end well. The result being that the initial love-story, the attempted escape, etc.—these plots were no longer merely romantic, adventurous, etc. (respectively); on the contrary, they were all laced with distinct flavour of tragedy. I also paid more attention to Behn's prose, with which I was immensely impressed. I hadn't before noticed the certain stream-of-consciousness quality to her writing; one that, if I may be so bold, seems almost Woolfish (semi-related note: Virginia was, in fact, a fan of Behn's, who went so far as to call her the mother of women's lit). And finally, I think I'm really just beginning to come to terms with the historical and literary context in which this proto-novel was written, a context which makes Behn's achievement (writing in a new form, writing as a woman, etc.) all the more noteworthy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Wow, this is one of the most uncomfortable pieces of work I've come across in months. I mean this in the best way. First and foremost, Oroonoko is full of problematic language concerning race, but I think this really has to do with the time Behn was living in. She really tries to be progressive in her depiction of Oroonoko himself and his beloved Imoinda, but 18th-century treatment of language is naturally different than what we are used to now. So while this fact does prevent me from giving thi Wow, this is one of the most uncomfortable pieces of work I've come across in months. I mean this in the best way. First and foremost, Oroonoko is full of problematic language concerning race, but I think this really has to do with the time Behn was living in. She really tries to be progressive in her depiction of Oroonoko himself and his beloved Imoinda, but 18th-century treatment of language is naturally different than what we are used to now. So while this fact does prevent me from giving this a full 5 stars, I expected no less. So Oroonoko apparently became known as abolitionist literature, and Behn is sometimes seen as a precursor to Harriet Beecher Stowe. While this is true, I'd argue that this work is much more of a sympathetic work to slaves than Stowe's work, as Oroonoko really is a noble, handsome man who is intelligent and loving. Thus, his slavery is hard for the readers to bear and the ultimate tragedy is very hard to read about, sometimes due to the visceral nature of Behn's descriptions. I have little else to say about this work, but I have to admit that this was a bit of a shocking work and I'm glad that I read it for a class setting!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    Aphra Behn's superb "Oronooko" is book that is quite ghastly to read but which has rightfully won a place on the undergraduate curriculum. In this politically correct century "Oronooko" has two great qualities. First, it is a very early novel by a woman writer. Second, it appears to be the first work of prose fiction to squarely address the issues of slavery and the harmful effects of European colonialism on the third world. Published in 1688, "Oronooko" can be seen as a precursor to Voltaire's Aphra Behn's superb "Oronooko" is book that is quite ghastly to read but which has rightfully won a place on the undergraduate curriculum. In this politically correct century "Oronooko" has two great qualities. First, it is a very early novel by a woman writer. Second, it appears to be the first work of prose fiction to squarely address the issues of slavery and the harmful effects of European colonialism on the third world. Published in 1688, "Oronooko" can be seen as a precursor to Voltaire's "I'Ingénu" ( 1767), Montesquieu's "Lettres persanes" ( 1721) de Montesquieu and "Lettres d'une Peruvienne" (1747) by Françoise de Graffigny. While, the three French novels are all better written works. Oronooko's virtues are as nauseating as those of Uncle Tom while the evil of the vilain Byam is as absurd as that of Simon Legree. Nonetheless Behn's novella is still constitutes a very honourable beginning the literary debate on slavery and colonialism. Behn is if nothing else a great pioneer and deserves to be studied at our universities.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    Quite an interesting read, though has some views from the time period that for me at least, were a bit distracting. But otherwise good.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    This fascinating little novel was written in 1688, a generation before Daniel DeFoe, who is typically considered the first modern novelist in English, and written by a woman no less. The novel follows Oronooko, an African prince who is tricked into slavery by so called “Christians.” At its core, the novel is about the nature of kingship, which was the big political issue of its day, the Restoration period of English history, but in doing so Aphra Behn creates a narrative of the indignities of sl This fascinating little novel was written in 1688, a generation before Daniel DeFoe, who is typically considered the first modern novelist in English, and written by a woman no less. The novel follows Oronooko, an African prince who is tricked into slavery by so called “Christians.” At its core, the novel is about the nature of kingship, which was the big political issue of its day, the Restoration period of English history, but in doing so Aphra Behn creates a narrative of the indignities of slavery, a social position well ahead of her time. Her woman’s voice and perspective—the tale is told in the first person of Behn as a character in the story—also gives dignity to the female characters. The prose is dated to Behn’s time, but it is good and rhythmic prose, but some may not enjoy reading that. Partly woman’s amatory novel, partly heroic action story, and partly slave narrative, the novel doesn’t always seem to know what it should be, but I do think the story holds together. The story holds together because Behn creates an indelibly memorable character in Oroonoko, who at times recalls Henry V, at times recalls Othello, and other times a Christ-figure. This novel should be more widely known than it is, at a minimum for its due placement in the history of the novel. I initially gave the novel three stars with a statement of three and a half stars if I could be more precise. My mind still sees it as three and a half stars but I give it four stars as I lean to the higher side. On reflection the novel has grown on me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Read for a lit class! Find it hard and weird to try and rate this, but it was a thought provoking story

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amber Tucker

    Well, that was... not really worth it. A little exaggeration on my part, I suppose. It's kind of tedious and the ending? It's tragically significant, but also, I found, needlessly gory and yet ostensibly titillating at the same bloody (that's not just an expletive) time. And, needless to say, imperialism and racism are written all over it – unless you try to read between the lines, which can be done to some extent, and which I've tried to do. I don't want to dismiss the whole thing right off. St Well, that was... not really worth it. A little exaggeration on my part, I suppose. It's kind of tedious and the ending? It's tragically significant, but also, I found, needlessly gory and yet ostensibly titillating at the same bloody (that's not just an expletive) time. And, needless to say, imperialism and racism are written all over it – unless you try to read between the lines, which can be done to some extent, and which I've tried to do. I don't want to dismiss the whole thing right off. Still, the only way I can genuinely appreciate this story (aside from remembering it was authored by the first professional woman writer in England) is to believe that Behn was poking criticism at Europeans for their utter hypocrisy. Civilized as all get out, basically, but greedy liars every one. At least, that's Prince Oroonoko's experience. – Oroonoko who becomes Caesar, that is. I mean, really? What was she trying to pull with that one? Not only does she show white man's bad side, she makes even their *good* qualities look like a bad side, next to the amazing "royal slave" and his darling Imoinda. Like I was saying, Oroonoko is everything that white man is and THEN some: he is honest and terrifyingly true to his word. I can feel a tautening thread of insanity each time Oroonoko is distrusted and betrayed by Europeans, even those who call themselves his friends. I feel the story's sadness, really I do. I just hope that Behn meant to shame Europeans for their ideals of 'civility' in this story, and not to glorify those ideals while amusing them her readership with some pathetic Oriental approach.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    An odd book. Behn's view seems to be that it's OK for people to be enslaved as a result of war (as they were in all races and cultures), but not to be traded and exported. Also that it's wrong to enslave a prince of any tribe, race or culture (they would usually have been ransomed) but OK for the common people. Prince Oroonoko therefore has her sympathy and even support to escape, if he can make it. The story might be criticized as racist and in some ways it is - e.g. the 'beautiful' and 'noble' An odd book. Behn's view seems to be that it's OK for people to be enslaved as a result of war (as they were in all races and cultures), but not to be traded and exported. Also that it's wrong to enslave a prince of any tribe, race or culture (they would usually have been ransomed) but OK for the common people. Prince Oroonoko therefore has her sympathy and even support to escape, if he can make it. The story might be criticized as racist and in some ways it is - e.g. the 'beautiful' and 'noble' Africans happen to be the ones who look more European - but didn't people of all races and nations think their own people were the most beautiful, before we began to mingle? I think it's too much to expect modern attitudes of somebody writing in 1688, and that kind of snap judgement ignores the ways that she's actually less racist than most writers of a couple of centuries later, because her estimation of individuals is not based on race but on integrity, courage and status within their own society. It's much more royalist than racist. She's very critical of her deceitful fellow-Brits who don't keep their promises. I don't think she sees Europeans as superior to Africans, only better equipped, less innocent and more cunning. The descriptions of Surinam (which she'd visited in her youth) are fascinating, as is the introduction to the Penguin edition about her own life. The style is wandering and not that great, but this is the very birth of novel-writing in English, before Defoe. She had a huge output of plays which we rarely hear about, but were popular in their day. Perhaps the fact that she lived and wrote is more important to literary history than what she wrote.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Duane

    This is not a great novel, but it does have it's literary significance. Aphra Behn (1640-1689), is considered the first female English novelist. And this novel provides a rather dark look at English colonization in the 17th century. The story is about Oroonoko, a Royal African prince, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South American country of Surinam. A sad and tragic tale as most slave stories are. Published in 1688. This is not a great novel, but it does have it's literary significance. Aphra Behn (1640-1689), is considered the first female English novelist. And this novel provides a rather dark look at English colonization in the 17th century. The story is about Oroonoko, a Royal African prince, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South American country of Surinam. A sad and tragic tale as most slave stories are. Published in 1688.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    Published in 1688... published in 1688... published in 1688. This was a chant in my head as I tried to get through this novel. I did not enjoy it at all. I found it full of racism (for example: Oronooko was considered handsome because he had European features!) and the prose was dull. I also did not find the characters particularly well-developed.

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