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.


News: a plural noun in the seventeenth century, "news" were sought by people curious about social and political events in the kingdom or the rest of the rapidly-expanding world.  "News" initially were circulated by letters written from London and sent to correspondents in the provinces.  You can se a reference to these provincial news letters in Congreve's The Way of the World.  The first English news papers were published by Nathaniel Butter and Nicholas Bourne to give English readers news of the Thirty Years War.  After Charles II removed the court from London to Oxford to avoid the plague of 1660, Londoners needed some official source of court politics, from which the London Gazette was born.  The Gazette has published continuously since then, and is available (including archives) online)


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).  


Saint's Life:  the brief biographies of holy men or women whose pure faith and good works inevitably attract the attentions of corrupt pagan officials, who try to tempt and to torture them so that they will abandon their faith.  The saints refuse temptation and ignore or even pray for torture as a way to prove their love of God.  They die with supernatural calm, rebuking their pagan torturers and preaching to the witnesses long after they have endured punishments that would have killed ordinary mortals.  Chaucer's "Second Nun's Tale" [St. Cecelia], Foxe's Acts and Monuments (see Norton 7th edition page 551-3 for samples of this Protestant "martyrology"), and for a modern, secular version, Henry James' Daisey Miller.


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.]