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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Oroonoko (1688) by Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely ca. 1670.jpg
Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in England (17th century)

Book Review
Oroonoko (1688)
by Aphra Behn

  If it had been written in the era of the novel, Oroonoko would be too short to qualify.  It's more like a novella in terms of length.  Since it was written before the era of the novel, it is a short work of prose fiction.  Most important for the purpose of the 1001 Books project, Aphra Behn is the first woman writer to be included, in terms of chronology.   Behn is a patron saint of all women writers in England and "one of" the first women to earn a living from her writing, which she did, as a playwright and poet, in the 17th century, in and around London.

  Behn's reputation has skyrocketed in recent years- her presence in the original 1001 Books list as the sole woman writer prior to the 18th century.  Since it was published in 1688, there is an argument that Oroonoko is the first novel, but including Oroonoko extends the time line back all the way to Greece and Rome.  Aside from the gender of the author, Oroonoko is interesting because it tells the story of an African prince, kidnapped and brought to Surinam as a slave, where he rebels and is captured, and executed.

  The Elizabethan prose does the reader no favors, but at least Oroonoko is short- the American edition I checked out from the library had it as the first chapter in a collection of writing by Aphra Behn. 

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