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January 19, 2010

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Dr. Laura L. Runge
Office: CPR 360 D
Phone: 813-974-9496

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ENL 6236 Restoration Literature

Class 2: Oroonoko and Place


      Aphra Behn's Oroonoko in Todd (73-142)
      Runge, "Constructing Place in Oroonoko" unpublished paper, in course docs
      Gallagher and Stern, "The Caribbean in the Triangular Trade," etc., -- selected documents on Surinam from the seventeenth century, maps, from Gallagher and Stern pp. 326-390 -- in course docs
      Kate Chedgzoy, Women's Writing in the British Atlantic World, "Introduction: A Place on the Map is also a Place in history" (1-15) in course docs
      Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction, chap 1-2 (pp. 1-51) in course docs
      Pred, "Place as Historically Contingent Process: Structuration and the Time-Geography of Becoming Places," (279-297) in course docs.
    Class Objectives:

      Read Oroonoko and discuss
      Read essays on Oroonoko and Surinam
      Read essays / chapters on place

      DUE: Post 2

    Notes and Discussion Questions:


      We will be using Aphra Behn's novella, published in 1688, as a grounding text for the course, and this is our first meeting with it. I ask you to read the text carefully, noting places in the text that raise questions for you, that seem particularly interesting, or that confuse you in any way. Please be prepared to discuss these passages in class.

      I am also providing a series of additional readings that might be grouped into two categories: texts on place in Oroonoko and texts on place in general.

      On Oroonoko and place, I am giving you a paper I presented last fall at the Aphra Behn Society Meeting (and also at the department works-in-progress group). It is a work in progress, but it lays out some preliminary ideas for considering place in Behn's novel. I welcome your responses and questions and suggestions.

      Also, I have included some readings from the era on the colonies in Surinam and Barbados. If I had planned better, I would have assigned you the Bedford Cultural Editions version of Oroonoko edited by Catherine Gallagher and Simon Stern, because it has a wealth of visual and textual information on place. I have put some of this in our course docs for you to read.

      The introduction to Kate Chedgzoy's book is useful both for its information on women's writing and place and also because it highlights some important critical issues of the moment: the role of gender in an understanding of politics and place. This move seems part of a general trend in British Studies away from nationalist narratives to more localized studies, sensitive to the differences of many peoples, histories and places.

      On place in general, I have assigned the opening chapters of Tim Cresswell's very useful book, Place: A Short Introduction. This is a geography text, and so I expect that it might seem a bit strange, but I hope that you will bring any questions and concerns to the class so that we can discuss it. It has an excellent bibliography for further work on place, should you be so inclined.

      Finally I have included an essay by Allan Pred that offers a theory for understanding the construction of place through time, as an historical process. I think this is very important for us to consider as we look at texts from the seventeenth century and consider the ways in which they invoke or construct place, both then and now.

    Some questions to consider:

      Much ink has been spilt in trying to decide if Behn actually visited Surinam in the early 1660s, if the story has a basis in fact, or if she read Warren's travel narrative and invented with abandon. I tend to side with Janet Todd, Behn's biographer, in accepting Behn's word that she did indeed visit Surinam. (See the bibliography on Oroonoko for various sides to the arguments.)

      My focus has been on Surinam and the vivid details she provides in her narrative. There are many other aspects of the text worth considering. I'll name a few that have been the subject of critical interest (again, see the bibliography), and ask that you weigh in on your own.

        role of the narrator
        difference between the Coramantien and Surinam sections
        Oroonoko as hero
        political allegory for the doomed Stuart monarchy
        influence of various genres on Behn's writing: French romances, heroic tragedy, travel narrative, biography, fiction
        Slavery and narrative complicity
        Colonial representation
        Imoinda as subjugated woman of color
        Behn/narrator and gender politics of writing
        religious satire
        first American novel
        early novel - fact/fiction

      In your posts, you can take up any of these issues as it appears to you in the text, or respond to any of the other readings in a thoughtful consideration of Oroonoko

      I also ask that you identify some particularly rich passages in the novel that you will want to address in class. We will be conducting some "pointing" exercises on specific passages to generate close readings. I will focus on the opening and the closing, because openings and closings in literature are particularly important. I will choose two or three other passages based on your responses in the discussion board.

      Some thoughts on Place

      I have given you a variety of readings that engage notions of place in order to provide a series of definitions or concepts with which to work this semester. Essentially, I believe that literature is part of the cultural construction of a given place, and that construction happens at the time of its writing and dissemination as well as at the time of its reading. Therefore, we can attempt to understand the way literature represents, shapes, and builds a sense of England (Surinam, Ireland Scotland, the Netherlands, etc.) in the seventeenth century by examining closely the language of the text and understanding it in context of history and other cultural articulations. We also can appreciate the way in which the literature creates a sense of place for us now, at this reading, and how the story affects our understanding of the world we live in.

      I will bring in some information about present day Suriname and some maps to further consider our relationship to this place.

      As you read, raise any questions or concerns about the texts in your notes. You can bring these to class or broach them in your posts.

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