Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders

  • John Skinner


Through its concern with issues of gender, race and class, Oroonoko was guaranteed the attention of late twentieth-century critics and theorists. Feminists emphasized the strong matrilinear claims of Behn in genealogies of the novel: a form supposed to have ‘risen’ with those ‘fathers of the novel’, Fielding and Richardson, in the 1740s — or even Defoe in the 1720s — was already emerging with Behn in the 1680s. New historicists seized on the ideological contradictions inherent in Behn’s writing: Tory, royalist and elitist, she produces a radical, pre-feminist text sometimes regarded as a pioneering anti-slavery narrative. For these reasons alone, Oroonoko is a challenging starting-point for a series of individual readings.1


Woman Writer Guinea Coast African Slave Male Author Popular Fiction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Two earlier critical biographies of Behn, necessarily speculative in view of the scant information available, are Maureen Duffy’s The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn, 1640–1689 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1977)Google Scholar
  2. Angeline Goreau’s Reconstructing Aphra: A Social Biography of Aphra Behn (New York: Dial Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  3. The key work on Behn in the context of slavery is Moira Ferguson’s Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670–1834 (London: Routledge, 1992), see especially ch. 2, ‘Oroonoko: Birth of a Paradigm’, pp. 27–50.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    see Ernest Bernbaum’s ‘Mrs Behn’s Biography, a Fiction’, PMLA 28 (1913), pp. 432–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 11.
    See Gillian Beer, The Romance (London: Methuen, 1970);Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works, ed. Janet Todd (Harmordsworth: Penguin Books, 1992), p. 35.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    There is nevertheless wide consensus on a select group of critical monographs over the last five decades; some of these are noted below. The most comprehensive biography is now Paula Backscheider’s Daniel Defoe: a Life (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  8. Earlier studies stressing religious traditions behind Defoe are George Starr’s Defoe and Spiritual Biography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965)Google Scholar
  9. J. Paul Hunter’s The Reluctant Pilgrim: Defoe’s Emblematic Method and Quest for Form in Robinson Crusoe (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  10. An important new dimension to Defoe criticism is offered by Lincoln Faller’s Crime and Defoe: A New Kind of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 19.
    See J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction (New York: Norton, 1990).Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    John Sutherland, The Best Seller (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, Mythopeic Reality: The Postwar American Nonfiction Novel (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    In addition to Zavarzadeh (note 23), see also John Hollowell’s Fact and Fiction: The New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977)Google Scholar
  15. John Hellmann’s Fables of Fact: The New Journalism as New Fiction (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    The writings of Behn, Manley and Haywood are the particular subject of Ros Ballaster’s Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Mary Anne Schofield’s Masking and Unmasking the Female Mind (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990) has interesting chapters on the early and late Haywood, respectively.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    William McBurney’s ‘Mrs Penelope Aubin and the Early Eighteenth-Century English Novel’, Huntingdon Library Quarterly, 20 (May 1957), pp. 245–67, was the pioneering essay on Aubin.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 35.
    Barker has aroused additional critical interest because of the autobiographical dimension of her fiction (e.g. Patricia Meyer Spacks’s Imagining a Self: Autobiography and Novel in Eighteenth-Century England, 1976).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© John Skinner 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Skinner

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations