English 6236: Restoration Literature
Early Novel (Behn)
Assignment: The Fair Jilt (Todd 27-72); Oroonoko (Todd 73-142); The Unfortunate Happy Lady (Salzman 527-553).
I. Oroonoko has received a good deal of critical attention in the past decade or so. How would you account for this contemporary interest in it?
What do you think the major areas of Oroonoko's appeal would have been for a Restoration audience?
II. Evaluate the stance on women and slavery expressed in Oroonoko. Where would you locate this work on the ideological spectra for both issues?
Backscheider: "Not seen as an 'abolitionist piece,' as some twentieth-century critics have labeled it, but as a well-told, moving tale and part of her Tory Oeuvre, [Oroonoko] was praised as evidence of her 'great Strength of Mind' and for its literary style" (93).
Compare this interpretation on the text's representation of slavery with that of Brown and Guffey.
What are some of the elements of literary style for which it might have been praised?
In general, do you see ways in which the sex of the author significantly affects the content or form of Oroonoko?
III. To what extent can this work legitimately be considered a novel? Do literary critics who call it a novel do so simply because they are desperate to establish a pedigree for the notable novelistic achievements to come in the eighteenth century?
What happens to plot, characterization, setting and prose style in this work, as opposed to their relative roles in the novel? What elements generally considered characteristic of the novel does Oroonoko possess? does it lack any characteristics essential for a novel? How do the formal elements of the other novellas compare with those of Oroonoko?
If Oroonoko is not a novel, to what genre would you assign it? Or does the whole question matter? How important is it to accurately categorize Oroonoko generically?
IV. Do you see any evidence in Oroonoko that Behn was a practicing dramatist? In either of the other stories?
V. Paula Backscheider calls Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt and other novels by Behn "dark texts. . . . Nothing about these texts is simple" (118). She argues that her fiction "disrupt[s] three of the most basic, shared reader experiences. These are expectations about identification, about a hegemonic, gendered language system, and about the lines and resolutions of plot" (129).
Examine Behn's text for evidence of these disruptions. What effects do they have on the reading experience? What aesthetic or literary purpose do they serve? What ideological emphasis do they have?
Backscheider: "Over and over in Oroonoko, but in The Fair Jilt and The History of the Nun as well, woman's irrational and unnameable position is made evident, but the irrationality is extended to male characters, especially as they act in and are integrated in the public, political sphere" (135).
What is the irrational and unnameable position of women in these texts? What conflicts inform their characterization? What discourses do they represent? And how does Behn extend these conflicts and discourses to male characters in the stories?
VI. In general, evaluate the role of the narrator in these fictions. Does Behn achieve a distinctive narrative voice? How does the voice negotiate the forms of romance and realism present in these texts? Of the three tales, which is the most realistic? Which the most influenced by romance (french heroic romance)? What other genres seem to impinge on the form and style of these narratives?