Narrative Fiction Before the Modern Novel


Some Genres Aphra Behn Drew Upon to Create Oroonoko:


Autobiography / Biography (The Book of Margery Kempe): a narrator's or another person's life's events told in sequence with thematic focus: Behn's Oroonoko; Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe; Dickens, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations; Eliot, Silas Marner.


Personal Essay (Montaigne, Essays; Sir Francis Bacon, Essays): short first-person reflective writing about contemporary or past events.  Utopia, and parts of the novels of Behn, Richardson and Fielding.


Medieval Romance ("Wife of Bath's Tale"): knight on quest brings justice/protetion to lady imprisoned or otherwise aggrieved; journey from court to forest or wilderness where marvels are witnessed; lovers are separated, wander, and are reunited by strange chance.  Behn's Oroonoko; Fielding's Tom Jones


History (Bede's Ecclesiastical History of Britain, The Battle of Maldon, Malory's Le Morte Darthur) a narrative of events important to many people, usually a tribe or nation, often involving (anciently) "the deeds of kings and conquerors."  Behn's Oroonoko and the later novels of Tolstoy and Dickens.


Travel Narrative (Utopia): travellers to the East or the New World recount their journey, marvels, customs of strange peoples, comparison with Euro-English culture.  Behn's Oroonoko; Defoe's Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe.


Comic and Tragic Drama: exaggerated bad and good behavior leads to restoration of order or destruction of tragic hero.  Behn's plays included many of the same set-speeches and heroic/anti-heroic character constructions found in Oroonoko.  They also can be found in Fielding and Dickens.  Other novelists take a more "mixed" attitude toward their characters so that it is difficult to tell whether there is a hero or not (cf. the opening lines of Dickens' David Copperfield).  


Other Influences, Found in Other Novels:


Letter ("Utopian" letters, humanist philosopical letters, Saint Paul's, Luther's and the Pope's letters): real or conventional address of a friend in personal communication meant to be read by others, often to defend or explain or propose.  ["Epistolary Novel" or a novel in letters: Aphra Ben, Letters from a Nobleman to His Sister; Fanney Burney, Evelina;  Samuel Richardson, Pamela and Clarissa


Confession (St. Augustine, Margery Kempe, Eliz. thieves' pamphlets): specialized autobiography uses readers as confessors of real or possible misbehavior, sometimes combined with defense of that behavior.  [This could be argued to be an influence on Oroonoko's construction.]


Satire: foolish or criminal behavior described and sometimes portrayed as if approved by the narrator--readers are expected to disagree violently.  [This also could be argued to be a part of Oroonoko's constructive influences.]