Oroonoko by Aphra Behn - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 24 Nov 2020 by  in William's Reviews Read 2735

Virginia Woolf said Oroonoko was the first novel. What makes the context of this story even more remarkable is that if we agree with this, then the first novelist was a woman, written in the late 17th century. 

“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.”

It is a story told in an almost biographical manner about Prince Oroonoko, who lived in the Caribbean Islands, and whom the author was in awe of. Behn forms his character with a sense of realism despite his idealised nature, with the real figure of Prince Oroonoko serving as the direct inspiration and supplier of plot. He is the symbol of honour and deserves respect of all. But unto this he is stripped of his rank and taken as a slave. Yet he maintains his integrity and the impression of his personality on all he meets. 

A particular favourite aspect of mine in this read was the romantic thread, which I do not often say. Unlike so many stories I have read, it appeared natural, despite also being idealised The way Behn implemented this into the story gave the story a humanity that was needed for a connection to be made with Oroonoko.

The prose of Behn does not focus on emotive language, but rather tells the story of what is happening in a factual, fluid and immersive manner, which cleverly presented the setting and culture and characters of all parties so effectively.

But, Oroonoko is a product of its time, especially with the topic of colonialism. Behn appears to show two opinions on slavery. By having slavery as the means in which Oroonoko is tragically stripped from his power, It is projected as barbarous and a tool of injustice, but paradoxically Behn shows support by depicting its importance in sustaining the British Empire that is heralded as a great ideal.

“Where there is no novelty, there can be no curiosity"

The fact that Oroonoko was inspired largely by true facts and then idealised and romanticised added an extra does of realism into this novel, but also made it even more interesting. In this multifaceted novel, we are introduced to an inspiring and evocative story, memorable characters of both a loveable and hatable disposition, and the fluid prose of Aphra Behn. A short, thought-provoking read.

4.5/5 STARS


William is from Sussex, UK.

He has a passion for literature and enjoys reading all sorts of books. His hobbies are numerous and consist of medieval/viking reenactment, writing, karate and of course reading.