Aphra Behn's Oroonoko as the First Modern Novel

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During the seventeenth century, the art of writing was like uncharted waters for women, in which most who ventured were rendered pathetically unsuccessful. No matter the quality, publications written by women were typically ridiculed by their male contenders. However, a handful of women defied the common standards and were prosperous; one of these was Aprha Behn. Virgina Wolf says of Behn, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." Although she was a woman of outstanding accomplishments, one of her publications truly glistens. Oroonoko (1688), the epic tale of a heroic black slave, has often been dubbed the first modern novel in that it displays qualities utterly matchless for the seventeenth century. Although one may not realize it, several aspects work harmoniously in constructing the modern novel. According to Ian Watt, three of these are particularity, unity of design, and rejection of traditional plots. A novel must focus on specific characters and has to occur in a distinct time frame. Furthermore, a novel should have a plot unlike others of the era. One common idea or theme should also rule the work. All of these characteristics are vividly expressed in Oroonoko. Particularity, Watt states, is "the amount of attention it [the novel] habitually accords to both the individualism of its characters and to the detailed presentation of their environment." Behn puts an emphasis on only a few main characters; these being Oroonoko (Caesar), the narrator who is a white mistress, and Imoinda, Oroonoko's love. The writer goes to great lengths to brilliantly paint a picture of Oroonoko for the readers, ... ... middle of paper ... ...el - distinctiveness, unity of design, and rejection of traditional plots. Behn's accomplishment in writing Oroonoko both paved the way for future female writers and set an example for prospective novelists. Truly her impassioned account of a maltreated slave who died for liberty will forever be revered and cherished as the first modern novel. Works Cited Behn, Aphra and Janet Todd. Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works. England: Penguin Classics, 1992. Hunter, Paul J. "Before Novels". The Aphra Behn Page. <http://www.lit-arts.com/rmn/behn/novel.htm> 22 July 1999. Watt, Ian. "The beginnings of the English novel". The Aphra Behn Page. <http://www.lit-arts.com/rmn/behn/novel.htm>19 July 1999. Wolf, Virginia. "A Room of One's Own". The Virginia Wolf Society of Great Britian. <http://orlando.jp.org/VWSGB/> 22 July 1999.

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