kaelan's Reviews > Oroonoko

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
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's review
May 30, 2012

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Read 2 times. Last read May 30, 2012 to June 7, 2012.

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.
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Reading Progress

May 30, 2012 – Started Reading
May 30, 2012 – Started Reading
May 30, 2012 – Shelved
June 7, 2012 – Finished Reading
June 7, 2012 – Finished Reading

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