Friday, April 15, 2011

For Credit: What's Up with Clarinda?

If you were in class today, you got the handout with two Behn poems (by popular demand). We'll be talking about one of them, "The Disappointment" in class on Wednesday; it's a response to "The Imperfect Enjoyment" by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, which you can find on p. 562 of the Longman anthology. You can find "The Disappointment" (along with another, shorter poem: "To the Fair Clarinda") here, and over there in the sidebar under "Readings" if you didn't get a copy in class.

We won't be spending a lot in class on the first poem, "To the Fair Clarinda," but since it's short, have a look at it and post your thoughts here for blog credit. What's going on in this poem? Why is the poet so drawn to Clarinda?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/20), start of class.

For Credit: The Upward Path of Enlightenment

Racism and slavery are two different issues. Whether Oroonoko is a novel about slavery or not, it is an Enlightenment-era depiction of nonwhite people, and of European attitudes towards them. To what extent does this novel represent a stage in the process by which, as Chris Rock says, "White people have gotten less crazy"?


Deadline: Monday (4/18), start of class.

For Credit: What If Oroonoko Is Not about Slavery?

In class today we discussed some of the peculiar ruptures and discrepancies in Behn's depiction of slavery:
  • Oroonoko and Imoinda are represented as fundamentally different (in appearance as well as character) from the other enslaved Africans.
  • Little of the material deprivation, cruelty, and onerousness of slavery is depicted.
  • Oroonoko is hailed as a prince and revered by the very people he sold into slavery.
  • Imoinda has a house, a poodle, and the gallant admiration of all the white men on the plantation.
I suggested that perhaps the effort to read this as a novel about slavery is anachronistic.  What if the depiction of slavery here is just the scene-setting for a different kind of story that Aphra Behn wants to tell (and perhaps a different political agenda that she wants to advance)?

Some issues to consider as we work towards other ways of understanding this novel:

Who are the villains in this story, and what makes them so bad?
What is it about Oroonoko (beyond his handsome and Europeanized physical appearance) that entitles him to some respect and reverence from everyone he meets?
What are the leadership qualities in Oroonoko that Behn seems to value?
Who are the good guys among the white men in this story--and what makes them good?

Those are some issues to be considered as we formulate an alternative interpretation about what this novella is about.  Respond to this post with your answers to any of them, or your thoughts about how these various questions might come together to prompt other ways of reading this text. 

Deadline:  Monday (4/18), start of class.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

For Credit: Behn and Oroonoko in Surinam

Feel free to respond to any of the following questions (just specify what you are answering):

1.  Unlike the narrator of Fantomina, the narrator of Oroonoko puts herself in the story.  What do you learn about her from her narration?  What details about her life, values, or personality emerge?

2.  Oroonoko becomes Caesar when he is purchased by Mr. Trefry.  What (if anything) is significant about this name change?

3.  The subtitle of this novel is "The Royal Slave," an oxymoron.  To what ends does Behn yoke together the notions of royalty and servitude?

4.  What leadership qualities does Behn ascribe to Oroonoko?  How does he display his royalty?

5.  What in the depiction of Surinam leads you to believe that Behn might or might not have actually been there?  What details seem authentic--or not?

Deadline: Friday (4/15), start of class.

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Credit: More Fun with Swift and Montagu

Rochester as played by Depp in The Libertine
For those who missed class today, we looked at three poems in the Longman anthology:
  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "The Imperfect Enjoyment" (p. 562 - 563)
  • Jonathan Swift, "The Lady's Dressing Room" (p. 289 - 292)
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Montagu, "The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to Write a Poem Called The Lady's Dressing Room" (p. 292 - 294)
If you were in class, feel free to follow up on the discussion with further reflections, questions, or observations on any of these three poems--anything you would have liked to say in class but didn't have the opportunity to.

If you were not in class today, feel free to post thoughtful observations and specific queries to your classmates here about any of these three poems (and the elucidation that you might have missed out on).   Those who were in class are welcome to respond.

Deadline: Wednesday (4/13), start of class.

For Credit: Oroonoko Introductory Grab-Bag

For Wednesday be sure to read in Oroonoko up to the point on p. 317 where the English ship arrives.  You can read further, of course, but our discussion Wednesday will focus on that part of the novella
Here's a cluster of questions for you to consider in preparation for class.  Feel free to address any one of them in your response (just make it clear which you're responding to).

1.  Have you had to read this novella before? In what context? What did you take away from it?

2.  At what points in the narrative does Behn reveal her political leanings?  What hints do you get about her political beliefs?

3.  What interesting points of comparison do you find between this text and the other novels/novellas/fictions that we've read?  (i.e., Fantomina, Gulliver's Travels, The Story of the Stone)

4.  What interesting points of comparison do you find between this text and the other travel narratives we've read in the past few weeks?

Deadline: Wednesday (4/13), start of class.