An Annotated Bibliography
on Aphra Behn's Oroonoko

Jack Lynch,
19 September 1994

(with a few minor updates on 18 February 1997 --
my thanks to Mary Ann O'Donnell)

Since Mary Ann O'Donnell has produced a nearly comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary work through 1984 (item 1), I have covered only the more important works before 1985, giving references to O'Donnell's number when available. Coverage since then is more thorough. Excluded are bibliographical and textual studies, reviews, and a number of items not easily available.

Books devoted exclusively to Behn receive fairly thorough treatment; articles since 1985 are also considered in depth. Since Behn often figures in accounts of the development of the early novel, discussions of her (even the briefest) in the more important work on what Watt has labeled the rise of the novel appear under "Brief Mentions."


1. Mary Ann O'Donnell, Aphra Behn: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1986.
The most thorough bibliography, comprising material from 1671 through 1985; O'Donnell claims the coverage through 1984 is comprehensive. O'Donnell catalogues 106 primary titles and 661 secondary works, and annotates them briefly.


First Edition:

2. Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave. A True History. By Mrs. A. Behn. London: Printed for William Canning, 1688.
Wing B 1749; O'Donnell A31.1a.
3. Three Histories. Viz. I. Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave. II. The Fair Jilt: or, Tarquin and Miranda. III. Agnes de Castro: or, the Force of Generous Love. By Mrs. A. Behn. London: Printed for William Canning, 1688.
Reissue of item 2 in the original 1688 state. Wing B 1766A; O'Donnell A32.

Critical Editions:

4. Gerald Duchovnay, ed., "Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: A Critical Edition." Ph.D. diss., Indiana Univ., 1971. Dissertation Abstracts International, 32 (1971), 4559A.
O'Donnell A31.22. Duchovnay's is the most thorough treatment of the text of Oroonoko.
5. Adelaide P. Amore, ed., Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave: A Critical Edition. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Presses of America, 1987.
A less thorough, but more easily available, critical edition. It is, however, very sloppy in places, and the text is unreliable.

Other Twentieth-Century Editions:

6. Montague Summers, ed., The Works of Aphra Behn. London: Heinemann, 1915; repr. New York: Phaeton, 1967, and New York: Blom, 1967.
O'Donnell A40.12. The old nearly complete edition of Behn's writings, though now thoroughly out of date. Oroonoko is in vol. 5. Summers's pioneering but idiosyncratic work has been superseded by Janet Todd's edition of the complete works from Ohio State Univ. Press.
7a. Oroonoko: The Norton Critical Edition, ed. Joanna Lipking (New York: Norton, 1997).
Includes critical essays and a section on slavery.
7b. Janet Todd, ed., The Complete Works of Aphra Behn (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1996).
The new standard edition of all the works
7. Lore Metzger, ed., Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave. New York: Norton, 1973.
O'Donnell A31.23. The most easily available text, and long the closest to a de facto standard edition. Metzger excludes the dedicatory epistle.
8. Maureen Duffy, ed., Oroonoko and Other Stories. London: Methuen, 1986.
A recent edition by the author of an important biography.
9. Janet Todd, ed., Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works. London: Penguin, 1992.
A convenient collection of Behn's most often-read works from the editor of the collected edition.
10. Paul Salzman, ed., Oroonoko, and Other Writings. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994.

Books on Behn:

There is no book-length treatment of Oroonoko, though several full-length biographies and collections discuss Oroonoko among Behn's complete works.

11. Vita Sackville-West, Aphra Behn, The Incomparable Astrea. New York: Viking, 1928.

O'Donnell 271. This unscholarly but engaging early biography is most notable for countering Ernest Bernbaum's challenge to the authenticity of Behn's stay in Surinam (see item 17).
12. George Woodcock, The Incomparable Aphra. London: Boardman, 1948.
O'Donnell 361. Long the standard biography. Despite serious flaws, there is no obvious successor. Woodcock's avowed political anarchism -- surprising in a period dominated by New Criticism -- leads to interesting takes on feminism and racism, but his political views are sometimes too intrusive, leading him to misrepresent the political background to Behn's works. Nearly half a century of subsequent scholarship has advanced our knowledge of Behn beyond this important work.
13. Maureen Duffy, The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn, 1640-89. London: Cape, 1977.
O'Donnell 550. Duffy corrects a number of Woodcock's errors, but her frequent sloppy guesswork (often prefaced by "I imagine that") belies her occasional useful insights. Though O'Donnell finds the book underrated, it is embarrassingly poorly prepared; that Oroonoko is misspelled as Orinooko on every page (with only a "Correction" from the publisher at the end of the list of illustrations) does little to inspire confidence in a scholarly enterprise. Her analysis of Oroonoko as a political roman à clef is cursory.
14. Angeline Goreau, Reconstructing Aphra: A Social Biography of Aphra Behn. New York: Dial Press, 1980.
O'Donnell 598. A feminist biography that explores the contradictions in Behn's own nascent feminism. Like Duffy and the entire line of Behn biographers, Goreau is too quick to give credence to speculation without adequate evidence. There is much more on the early plays than on the fiction and late dramas.
15. George Woodcock, Aphra Behn: The English Sappho. Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 1989.
A reprint of item 12, with the addition of only a new (1989) introduction. Woodcock's only substantive modification of his argument is to accept Duffy's hypothesis (in item 13) that Behn's maiden name was likely Johnson.
16. Rereading Aphra Behn: History, Theory, and Criticism, ed. Heidi Hunter. Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1993.
A major new collection of essays on Behn's complete oeuvre, with two essays, item 34 and item 35, devoted to Oroonoko.
16b. Janet Todd, ed., Aphra Behn Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996).
The volume has two essays on Oroonoko: Catherine Gallagher, "Oroonoko's Blackness," and Joanna Lipking, "Confusing Matters: Searching for the Backgrounds of Oroonoko."

Articles and Book Chapters:

17. Ernest Bernbaum, "Mrs. Behn's Biography a Fiction." PMLA, 28 (1913), 423-53.
O'Donnell 218. A challenge to the tradition that Behn spent time in Surinam, and a focal point of much subsequent biographical criticism.
18. J. A. Ramsaran, "'Oroonoko': A Study of the Factual Elements." Notes & Queries, 205 (1960), 142-45.
O'Donnell 420. A fairly typical example of pre-seventies Oroonoko criticism, concerned almost exclusively with the biographical background and the identification of historical people. Ramsaran simply summarizes the existing research.
19. Henry A. Hargreaves, "New Evidence of the Realism of Mrs Behn's Oroonoko." Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 74 (1970), 437-44.
O'Donnell 488. A reaction to Ernest Bernbaum's challenge (item 17) to the tradition that Behn spent time in Surinam: Bernbaum's insistence that Behn drew all her ostensibly first-hand information from travel books, Hargreaves argues, goes too far. He finds anthropological evidence that Behn's descriptions are more correct than Bernbaum would allow. Hargreaves himself goes too far, however, when he makes the facile equation of "realism" with historical veracity, a recurring habit in Oroonoko criticism.
20. George Guffey, "Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: Occasion and Accomplishment." In Two English Novelists: Aphra Behn and Anthony Trollope: Papers Read at a Clark Library Seminar, May 11, 1974. Los Angeles: Clark Library, 1975, pp. 3-41.
O'Donnell 531. A pioneering essay that takes Oroonoko seriously as a work of literature, as opposed to an illustration of Behn's biography. Guffey reads the text politically, noting strong Stuart sympathies. He denies that the Oroonoko is a pure abolitionist tract or a representation of the noble savage; Oroonoko himself is thoroughly European in character. Guffey's work helped establish the tradition of serious criticism in the 1970s.
21. Martine Watson Brownley, "The Narrator in Oroonoko." Essays in Literature, 4 (1977), 174-81.
O'Donnell 549. A meditation on Behn's narrator as a mediator between heroic romance and realistic fiction, neither term being defined with adequate clarity.
22. Lucy K. Hayden, "The Black Presence in Eighteenth-Century British Novels." CLA Journal, 24 (1981), 400-15.
O'Donnell 610. An ill-focused article that alternates between plot summary and belletristic appreciation. Hayden looks at black characters in Oroonoko, Robinson Crusoe, Rasselas, and Tristram Shandy, concluding finally that "the black presence in eighteenth-century British novels was evinced in both major and minor roles" (p. 415).
23. Peter J. Weston, "The Noble Primitive as Bourgeois Subject." Literature and History, 10 (1984), 59-71.
O'Donnell 656. In a larger consideration of the noble savage, Weston considers Behn's use of both the Caribs of Surinam and the Coromantiens. He decides "Oroonoko is significant as an early noble primitive . . . [because] he stands as a complete, solitary, and alien individual against the values of the (colonial) society into which he is inserted" (p. 63).
24. William Spengemann, "The Earliest American Novel: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Nineteenth-Century Literature, 38 (1984), 384-414.
O'Donnell 655. Spengemann argues Behn should be considered in the tradition of early American literature. He considers the arcadian locus amoenus of Surinam, the genre of "the Brief True Relation," and the shifts in narrative attitude as characteristic of American literature, which he defines loosely as "writing conditioned by those linguistic changes that resulted from the transportation of European languages to the New World and from efforts on the part of those languages to apprehend that unprecedented phenomenon" (pp. 406-407).
25. Laura Brown, "The Romance of Empire: Oroonoko and the Trade in Slaves." In The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown. New York: Methuen, 1987, pp. 41-61.
A ground-breaking essay in a ground-breaking volume. Brown is among the first to combine the feminist and colonialist discourses circulating around the text; she follows Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak in using feminism and colonialism to critique one another. She draws on a wide range of critics, including Said, Todorov, and Bhabha, and examines the tension between the "hierarchical aristocratic ideology of heroic form" and the natural innocence and noble savagery of the Caribs. She finds that colonialist history and heroic romance "are oriented around the same governing point of reference -- the figure of the woman" (p. 54), and looks at "the superimposition of aristocratic and bourgeois systems -- the ideological contradiction that dominates the novella" (p. 55). The notion of radical contemporaneity allows us to find in this contradiction "a site beyond alterity." All subsequent considerations of Oroonoko have had to address this important reading.
26. Katharine M. Rogers, "Fact and Fiction in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Studies in the Novel, 20 (1988), 1-15.
A recent (and therefore surprising) examination of the factual background to the work, reconsidering the trip to Surinam. Rogers draws on a wider range of anthropological material, both African and American, than is usual in this sort of study, and concludes with a balanced assessment of Behn's use of factual and imaginative material.
27. Margaret Ferguson, "Juggling the Categories of Race, Class and Gender: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Women's Studies, 19 (1991), 159-81.
Another article indebted to Spivak: Ferguson looks as the shifting identifications of the pronoun "we" in the new critical trinity of race, class, and gender, and suggests they are best understood not as a coherent vision but as a nexus of contradictions. She places considerable emphasis on Imoinda, looking at her competition with the narrator over Oroonoko's body and its power to engender something lasting. This attention to Imoinda begins an important and recent critical dialogue. Ferguson finds the book a disturbing "safe-sex substitute for the potentially mutinous but also economically viable black slave child Oroonoko might have had with Imoinda" (p. 172).
28. Jeslyn Medoff, "The Daughters of Behn and the Problem of Reputation." In Isobel Grundy and Susan Wiseman, eds., Women, Writing, History: 1640-1740. Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1992.
A feminist reading of how several women authors reckoned with the reception of their works (known to be written by women) and sought to control their public images.
29. Ros Ballaster, "Seizing the Means of Seduction: Fiction and Feminine Identity in Aphra Behn and Delarivier Manley." In Grundy and Wiseman (see item 28).
Ballaster considers not only these women authors' attempts to manipulate their reputations, but looks at their erotic fiction as Tory propaganda.
30. Moira Ferguson, "Oroonoko: Birth of a Paradigm." New Literary History, 23 (1992), 339-59.
Another exploration of the text's contradictions. Ferguson argues "the text's protean nature relates to Aphra Behn's politically ambivalent views about royalty and colonial supremacy" (p. 339), suggesting Behn's sentimentalism "unwittingly intensified negative attitudes toward Africans" (p. 340) by Europeanizing their virtues.
31. Rosalind Ballaster, "New Hystericism: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: The Body, the Text and the Feminist Critic." In New Feminist Discourses: Critical Essays on Theories and Texts, ed. Isobel Armstrong. London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 283-95.
Ballaster picks up Spivak's new historicist emphasis on discontinuity and the mutual critique of feminist and colonialist discourses, and critiques Spencer's Rise of the Woman Novelist and Laura Brown's essay (item 25). She finds they "suppress the problem of a conflictual relationship between the white and black women in favour of exploring the relationship between the black man and white woman as a mutual exchange of marginalities." The center of Ballaster's reading, as of Margaret Ferguson's (item 27), is Imoinda, who refuses to conform to the binary paradigms of many critics of alterity.
32. Stephanie Athey and Daniel Cooper Alarcón, "Oroonoko's Gendered Economies of Honor/Horror: Reframing Colonial Discourse Studies in the Americas." American Literature, 65 (1993), 415-43.
In an article that lacks the focus of most of the best criticism of Oroonoko in the last few years, Athey and Alarcón read the text against the colonialist interpretations of The Tempest and explore Behn's construction of women as white or black. They conclude "Behn places her narrator and Imoinda in a relationship of exchange; they take part in a textual transaction in which both are feminized, but in which the white female gathers metaphysical traits unto herself and inscribes the black female with physical value only" (pp. 436-37).
33. Margaret Ferguson, "Transmuting Othello: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." In Cross-Cultural Performances: Differences in Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare, ed. Marianne Novy. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1993, pp. 15-49.
Ferguson, in an essay that borrows entire sentences cut from the whole cloth of her own item 27, explores Oroonoko's background in Othello and explores the cultural resonances it gains from association with the unlearned and occasionally indecent Shakespeare. She continues the tradition of breaking binarism into triangles, again focusing on Imoinda, in contrast to whose death the white woman writer is defined.
34. Ros Ballaster, "'Pretences of State': Aphra Behn and the Female Plot." In Hunter, item 16 above, pp. 187-211.
Ballaster's feminist reading follows Shoshana Felman and Luce Irigaray: she argues for the possibility of a Tory feminist, and suggests the female narrator is a sign of a movement toward an individual rather than institutional center of authority. Since a female author was unwelcome in political discourse, Behn articulates her party politics "through the mirror of sexual politics, in which the feminine acts as substitute for the masculine. . . . The female plot . . . serve[s] to reflect and refract male plotting" (p. 193).
35. Charlotte Sussman, "The Other Problem with Woman: Reproduction and Slave Culture in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." In Hunter, item 16 above, pp. 212-33.
Focuses on "Behn's contradictory account of slavery" as expressed in the text's attitude toward kinship ties and the reproduction of slaves. Sussman therefore unites a feminist reading of a woman's control of reproduction with an economic reading of the production of slaves as commodities, suggesting "Imoinda's womb [is] the focal point for a rebellion against slavery" (p. 215).

Brief Mentions:

36. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own. New York: Fountain Press, 1929; repr. Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1957.
O'Donnell 282. Woolf famously nominates Behn as a mother of the modern professional woman writer.
37. Walter Allen, The English Novel: A Short Critical Introduction. New York: Dutton, 1954.
O'Donnell 386. In a chapter on "The Beginnings," Allen points to Behn's anticipation of Rousseau and abolitionist literature, but finds the most interest in "Mrs Behn's attempt to engraft verisimilitude on to a conventional story of romance" (p. 32). He looks closely at the text's advertisement as "A True History," and considers its implications in the subsequent development of realist fiction.
38. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. London: Chatto and Windus; Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1957.
Though this, still in many ways the standard account of the early novel, professes to confine itself to the early eighteenth-century triumvirate of canonical authors, Watt briefly addresses Behn and contrasts her to the tradition of the early novel he establishes. Behn's characters' names, unlike novelistic names, "carried foreign, archaic or literary connotations which excluded any suggestion of real and contemporary life" (p. 19), and her protestations of verisimilitude are unconvincing.
39. Harrison R. Steeves, Before Jane Austen: The Shaping of the English Novel in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
O'Donnell 449. This account of the early novel grants that Behn is the only Restoration writer apart from Bunyan "who measurably advanced the art of the novel" (p. 16), and sees anticipations of both Rousseauvean noble savagery and the novel of manners. But Steeves finds her narratives "no more than tastelessly smart, and to the average reader of today they must inevitably seem limited and dull."
40. David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966.
O'Donnell 454. Davis sees Oroonoko as "the prototype for a vast literature depicting noble African slaves" (p. 473), suggesting (based on his examination of West African culture) that Oroonoko is "more realistic than critics have imagined" (p. 474).
41. Douglas Grant, The Fortunate Slave: An Illustration of African Slavery in the Early Eighteenth Century. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968.
O'Donnell 469. Grant considers Behn's sentimental account of slavery through its descendants in Southerne and Steele, and argues against considering Oroonoko as a "noble savage," a role he gives to the Indians of Surinam: "The idea of the 'noble savage' was attached to America rather than Africa" (p. 152).
42. John Richetti, Popular Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns: 1700-1739. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969, 1992.
Richetti's survey of popular fiction in the early eighteenth century (criminal biographies, pirate tales, scandal novels, "pious polemic"), a reading of the gaps left by Watt (item 38), suggests in passing that Manley and Haywood operate in "an important and often deliberate counter-tendency to the tradition established by Mrs. Behn" (p. 260).
43. Earl Miner, "The Wild Man Through the Looking Glass." In The Wild Man Within: An Image of Western Thought from Renaissance to Romanticism, ed. Edward Dudley and Maximilian Novak. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
O'Donnell 506. A snide glance at Oroonoko in the tradition of the noble savage; Behn's contribution is sentimentalism.
44. Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction 1558-1700. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985.
O'Donnell 661. Salzman devotes chapter seventeen to "The Restoration Novel," and gives a few pages to a thoroughly unsympathetic account of Oroonoko, which has "received a rather undue amount of attention." Salzman slights Oroonoko's political and social significance and is concerned only with its "structural unity" and narrative technique.
45. Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987.
McKeon's is one of the most thorough materialist revisions of Watt's thesis (item 38). The Origins of the English Novel focuses not on the rise of a middle class but on the social instability of the seventeenth century. McKeon considers Behn's ambiguous attitude toward prelapsarian pastoral in the contrast between Indian naïveté and credulity on the one hand, and Western civilization and anti-romantic skepticism on the other. He suggests "Oroonoko is able to represent the condition of the new man, who, passively transported from the Old World to the New, shows that he embodies the best principles of progressive ideology more successfully than most of his fellow moderns" (pp. 250-51).
46. Janet Todd, The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing and Fiction, 1660-1800. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989.
This important account of women's writing in the eighteenth century takes its title from Behn and devotes an entire chapter to her; but Todd's interest is mostly in the poems, plays, and Love Letters. There is a brief consideration of the female narrator's claims to objective truth in Oroonoko.
47. J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.
Hunter's important account of the popular literature of the late seventeenth century -- ephemera, fantastic narratives, travel books, &c. -- mentions Behn only by the way, but is a useful study of the reading habits of the period.