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Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave

2.96 of 5 stars 2.96  ·  rating details  ·  4,977 ratings  ·  303 reviews
This edition of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko features a generous selection of thematically organized historical materials including explorers’ descriptions of the “new world” of the Caribbean; planters’ accounts of the sugar colonies; firsthand accounts of the slave trade from Dutch and English traders and abducted Africans; and early abolitionist publications by Europeans and fo ...more
Paperback, 473 pages
Published August 12th 1999 by Bedford/St. Martin's (first published 1688)
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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 ...more
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 ...more
Hadrian
It might be easy to dismiss this as a historical curio, but it's actually not too bad. This is a historical romance/tragedy about a captured king brought into slavery in English Suriname.

Behn's attitude toward slavery and monarchy is puzzling to us more modern readers. She's still an avowed pro-monarchist Tory, and it's as easy to interpret this as a pro-Stuart piece as an anti-slavery one. Well, humanizing some black people is a good start for the 17th century, I suppose.
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
...more
Leah
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 ...more
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
...more
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
...more
Bill  Kerwin

An interesting 17th century precursor to the novel, "Oronooko" 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 Oronooko.

It is well written, moves briskly, and provides a fascinating early glimpse not only of the slave trade but of indigenous inhabitants of South America as well.
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
...more
Ana Rînceanu
This was a slow burner for me, but I can warmly recommend it to all over the age of consent. Aphra Behn is one lovely lady I just recently discovered and I plan on reading more from her. Even though she wrote in the 1660s.

4 ongoing debates in this book:

European vs Native Superiority
Anti-colonialism
Slavery
The Female Narrative Voice

I know for a fact that everytime I hear the words "a noble savage", I roll my eyes. (Admit it some of you do too!) Whether it be a physical manifestation or an interna
...more
Abby
I had mixed feelings about this book.
There were so many interesting things about it, I hardly know where to begin.
It's a slave narrative, an adventure tale, a courtly romance, a biography, a travel narrative, a memoir, and a heroic tragedy. It's a strange conglomeration of sentiments: anti-slavery, royalist, feminist, with empathy to the undervalued and dehumanized. Behn touched on so many subjects - it gave me such a wonderful glimpse into her world.

I am familiar with this period of history,
...more
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
...more
Elijah Spector
The moral: Slavery is bad when it happens to someone we like, especially if that someone is royalty. In the end, it's really all about Aphra Behn being a royalist and about how very terrible it was for Charles I to be executed like a normal person! But it manages to be about that in a way that's also pretty racist.

It isn't really fair for me to blame that on Mrs. Behn, because she wrote it a very, very, very long time ago, and we have to look at it in its context. So I understand why it is like
...more
Nadosia Grey
Many critics have pointed out the narrative persuasiveness of this work. I’m not sure how they draw these conclusions. Even the first time reading this work I knew that the narration was terribly off in the sense that there was a certain unreliability present. If Behn should be commended for this work, it’s precisely for the effort of trying to synthesize dramatic conventions into the novel—something I think she doesn’t quite achieve.

Contradictory descriptions
Even when Oroonoko is first being
...more
Leslie
Though artfully written, Oroonoko is a seriously depressing story of a young African prince given over to a life of suffering and grief. His troubles begin when his grandfather is jealous of Oroonoko's future wife and takes her for himself. Unbeknownst to Oroonoko, Imoinda is later sold into slavery, and the wonderful part of the story comes when he becomes a slave and miraculously is reunited with her. Because the pair of them are so beautiful and well-respected, they are allowed to marry and l ...more
Alex Kurtagic
Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689) was a prolific dramatist, spy, and Tory propagandist of the English Restoration. After spying for Charles II in Antwerp during the Dutch wars, she turned to literature and became a successful author—indeed, the first female literary author to earn her living entirely from her quill. It is possible nowadays to obtain her entire oeuvre in a six-volume collection (300+ pages per volume). However, her most prominent works include a comedy, such as The Rover (1677); a farce, ...more
Rowland Bismark
Although it was not popular duing Behn's lifetime, today Oroonoko (1688) is Aphra Behn's most widely read and most highly regarded work. Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave remains important. It also influenced the development of the English novel, developing the female narrative voice and treating anti-colonial and abolitionist themes. It developed the figure of the noble savage that was later to be made famous by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Scholars have debated which work should cou
...more
Ambur
Well, I had to read this one for my Restorations class, and I'm gonna admit, I'm not a big fan. I didn't hate it, but I definitely wasn't pulled into the story. I just didn't enjoy the way that Behn told it. I'm not a fan of books that are overly descriptive, and I like to get to know the narrator. However, Oroonoko is not about the narrator, it's the story of A Royal Slave, Oroonoko, told by the narrator, and I just couldn't get interested in this story the way it was told. It's a novella, but ...more
i!
A well-Tempered and Unhistrionic Narrative of most Novelty and Glouriousness, most viciously indicting that Establishment that would have Royalty in Irons. The King (G O D bless His Soul) would be indignant beyond Measure to know of the Ways in which Negroes most nobly endowed (they should rightfully be called Dark Aryans or Patricians, after the Roman Aristocracy) are clapped in Chains and made to work among the Regular Darkies, who, lacking those Traits, or Origin most mirroring a Fairy Tale i ...more
Adam Floridia
On re-reading:

How did I originally give this only two stars? It's a well-written story that serves many purposes: travelogue, biography, Romance, abolitionist text, feminist breakthrough, and tragedy. It's like Romeo and Juliet meets King Lear plus Othello. Like most slave narratives, it disgusts you with its cruelties, making you wonder how an author could come up with such horrible things. Then you remember that humans actually used to treat other humans like this. And it makes you a little s
...more
Katie Grainger
I couldn't help but really enjoy Oroonoko, an amazing story which follows a prince who is cruelly sold into slavery by his grandfather. Prince Oroonoko falls in love with Imoinda and when his grandfather, the King finds out he first sells Imoinda to slavery and Oroonoko too is later sold as a slave.

Oroonoko and Imoinda are reunited when they arrive in the new world and Imoinda ends up pregnant. Oroonoko then petitions his English captors to let him and his wife to go free. What follows is a seri
...more
Aaron Brame
I thought I had an idea of this text before I started it, but it turns out that my conceptions were all wrong.

I thought it was a typical slave narrative that bared the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade, similar to "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano." Instead, it is a fictional romance about Oronooko, a prince of Africa (and himself a slave dealer), whose jealous grandfather betrays him onto a slave ship bound for Surinam. Along the way, he has to free a damsel
...more
Vasha7
Aphra Behn was the first English woman to support herself by writing, by dint of plays and tales of sentiment and sensation like Oroonoko (1688). It is a heroic novel, featuring a most manly, noble, handsome, warlike, proud, incorruptible, and altogether perfectly perfect hero; and a purely pure, beautiful, virtuously passionate heroine. So far, so 17th century; the thing that is peculiar about it is that these main characters are Africans, from some imaginary country. Behn must have been an adm ...more
Kristal
I was aimlessly perusing Amazon for something--anything--to read that had a bit of heft to it. After reading the description, I was both interested and I felt some obligation as a woman -- a black woman to read this novel. I somehow managed to avoid this book as part of my studies, so I read it the first time in my maturity. As soon as I finished reading, I looked at the reviews and was surprised at what I saw.

A good many folks read this for a class--hurray to their instructors. This is an inte
...more
Alyson Of Bathe
Full review here.

A curious book, born out of its time - the origins of the novel as a legitimate form of expression, imperialism, the emergence of women writers, and enlightened ideals all conflate to influence Aphra Behn's Oroonoko. There are no easy answers here, no simplistic, fill-in-the-blank answer to "this novel means __________." From a modern perspective, the ethics are contradictory and more than slightly off-putting, and while this novel is sometimes heralded as an antislavery polemic
...more
Diane
Oroonoko or the Royal Slave was published in 1688 by Alpra Behn. It is one of the first English novels written by a female. It is the story of Prince Oroonoko. He loves and marries Imoinda, who is then taken by his grandfather (the King) as his mistress, which negates Oroonoko’s claim. Since Oroonoko and Imoinda cannot avoid their love, Imoinda is sold into slavery.

I thought it would be fun to read one of the first English novels written but I was wrong. The author’s style of writing made this a
...more
Eadie
This is a very moving short story about the horrors of slavery. Aphra Behn is one of the first major female English writers and her text is very easy to read and understand. We see Oroonoko as a real human person instead of just being an ordinary slave. He is an African prince who heroically refuses to allow his unborn child be born into slavery. I recommend this novel as it is considered the first novel to be written in English and is one that should not be forgotten.
Marybeth
Easy reading for the 17th century. I appreciate both Behn's intent and her ambition. As an anti-slavery narrative, it gets the message across clearly, and yet there are still racist elements to it, no doubt unintentional, almost unconscious, that are head-scratching from a 20th century perspective. And then there's the sexism you'd expect in the time period and more than I needed of the love story. Still, thought-provoking in many ways. So far, I much prefer Behn's poetry.
Ahmed el-Masri
Indeed, I don't know what shall I say of such a deplorable story like this of the royal slave "Oroonoko". It is also with great occasion to perceive his irresistible nobility and gallantry. As he deserves to be a man of grandeur. For he proved to be a real example of a human being possessing all attributes of valour, honesty, gentleness, and any other thing that could describe a prince of his rank. His representation of the true, faithful, and sincere love was approved by all means of Innocence ...more
Christine
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Aphra Behn was a prolific dramatist of the English Restoration and was one of the first English professional female writers. Her writing contributed to the amatory fiction genre of British literature. Along with Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood, she is sometimes referred to as part of "The fair triumvirate of wit."

In author Virginia Woolf's reckoning, Behn's total career is more important than
...more
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The Rover Oroonoko, the Rover, and Other Works The Rover and Other Plays: The Rover; The Feigned Courtesans; The Lucky Chance; The Emperor of the Moon Oroonoko, and Other Writings Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister

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“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.” 22 likes
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