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Aphra Behn

lunes, 17 de noviembre de 2014

Aphra Behn

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble:

BEHN, Mrs Afra or Aphra, probably née Johnson (1650-89). She was born in Kent and visited Surinam, then a British colony, in 1663 with members of her family. On her return to England the following year she married Behn, a city merchant probably of Dutch descent, who died within two years. She was employed  in 1666 by Charles II as a spy in Antwerp in the Dutch war. Her first play, The Forced Marriage (1670), was followed by some 14 others, including her most popular, The Rover (in two parts, 1677-81), dealing with the adventures in Naples and Madrid of a band of English Cavaliers during the exile of Charles II; its hero, the libertine Willmore, was said to be based on *Rochester, though another model may have been her lover, John Hoyle, lawyer and son of the regicide Thomas Hoyle. The City Heiress (1682) is a characteristic satiric comedy of London life and, like Otway's *Venice Preserv'd, contains a caricature of *Shaftesbury. The Lucky Chance (1686) explores one of her favourite themes, the ill consequences of arranged and ill matched marriages. Her friends included *Buckingham, *Etherege, *Dryden and *Otway, and she was a staunch defender of the Stuart cause. She also wrote poems and novels and edited a Miscellany (1685). Her best-remembered work is *Oroonoko, or The History of the Royal Slave, based on her visit to Surinam. Perhaps the earliest English philosophical novel, it deplores the slave trade and Christian hypocrisy, holding up for admiration the nobility and honour of its African hero. Despite her success she had even in her time to contend with accusations of plagiarism and lewdness, attracted in her view by her sex, and as late as 1905, in an edition of her novels, Ernest Baker described her work as 'false, lurid and depraved'. V. Woolf in *A Room of One's Own (1928) acclaims her as the first English woman to earn her living byh writing, 'with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage', and comments that she was buried 'scandalously but rather appropriately' in Westminster Abbey. See M. *Duffy, The Passionate Shepherdess (1977). (See RESTORATION.)

Oroonoko, or The History of the Royal Slave, a novel by Afra Behn, published c.1688, adapted for the stage by *Southerne,  1695.

Oroonoko, grandson and heir of an African king, loves and wins Imoinda, daughter of the king's general. The king, who also loves her, is enraged and orders her to be sold as a slave. Oroonoko himself is trapped by the captain of an English slave-trading ship and carried off to Surinam, then an English colony, where he is reunited with Imoinda and renamed Caesar by his owners. He rouses his fellow slaves to revolt, is deceived into surrender by deputy governor Byam (a historical figure), and brutally whipped. Oroonoko, determined on revenge but not hoping for victory, kills Imoinda, who dies willingly. He is discovered by her dead body and cruelly executed.

The novel is remarkable as an early protest against the slave trade, and as a description of primitive people in 'the first state of innocence, before men knew how to sin': the author comments on the superior simplicity and morality of both African slaves and the indigenous Indians, whose Christian oppressors are shown as treacherous and hypocritical. Afra Behn's memories of her own visit to Surinam in 1663 provide a vivid background, and much of the story is narrated as by a personal witness. Southerne's tragedy follows the broad lines in the novel, but the deputy governor's passion for Imoinda is made a chief motif of action, Imoinda herself is presented as the daughter of a white European, and Oroonoko dies by his own hand, alterations which decrease the violence of the story and increase its intended pathos.

Orinoco de Aphra Behn


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