Other Literary Forms
In addition to her plays, Aphra Behn’s literary legacy includes many noteworthy works of fiction and poetry. The three-part novel entitled Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1683-1687) is both her earliest and her longest narrative effort. A fictionalized version of a notorious contemporary scandal, this novel was extremely popular at the time, but it is little read today. Of much more interest to present-day readers are the shorter novels such as The Fair Jilt: Or, The History of Prince Tarquin and Miranda (1688) and Oroonoko: Or, The History of the Royal Slave (1688). The latter is undoubtedly Behn’s most enduring literary creation in any genre. Allegedly based on her own experiences in Surinam during the 1660’s, the narrative relates the tragic history of a slave of African origin named Oroonoko and his wife, Imoinda, from the viewpoint of the author herself. As the story unfolds, Behn repeatedly exposes the deceitful and greedy nature of the European settlers and underscores the innate virtue of the novel’s eponymous hero. He is, therefore, one of the earliest fictional manifestations of the archetypical “noble savage.” Because of its implicit condemnation of slavery and colonialism, the novel is highly regarded as a harbinger of the crisis in political and social morality that was to trouble the conscience of Europeans in their dealings with the nonwhite population of the globe over the succeeding centuries.
Behn’s poetry is widely diverse in character. In keeping with the convention of the time, she made it a practice to provide her plays with prologues and epilogues in verse form. She...
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