Aphra Behn and her Female Successors.
Virginia Woolf famously praised Aphra Behn (1640-1689) in A Room of One's Own for her skill in "living by her wits" as a writer, declaring that "all women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds" (Woolf 1977:61, 63). The title Aphra Behn and her Female Successors might suggest a study of Behn's legacies for women writers, especially as Woolf's view is (mis)quoted in the foreword. The collection, though, is more broad-ranging, treating Behn's oeuvre in the contexts of genre and "the writing practices and philosophical theories of her time in general and of her female contemporaries and successors in particular" (p. 12).
Survey is an analytical mode in a good number of the essays. Rebecka Gronstedt surveys the literary criticism embedded in the prologues and epilogues to Behn's published plays to reposition her "as the first professional female critic" (p. 36). Behn's ideas about love, beauty, and "magic and irrationalism" (p. 109) are contextualized in relation to contemporary thinking on such topics by Oddvar Holmesland, Antoinette Curtin, and Violetta Trofimova, respectively. Literary historical contextualization of character types in Behn's oeuvre is conducted by surveying examples in her writing and the work of others in Margarete Rubik's "Amazons in Aphra Behn's Plays" and Jorge Figueroa-Dorrego's "Miranda: Aphra Behn's Appropriation of the Literary Figure of the Jilt."
Caribbeanists have taken a particular interest in Behn's Oroonoko (1688), a "text" that " 'composes' the disparate materials and encounters of the seventeenth-century Atlantic, a project of bricolage that recent critics have begun to consider fundamental to the rise of the novel" (Doyle 2008:99). Oroonoko is addressed in three essays in Aphra Behn and her Female Successors: "Between Saints' Lives and Novella: The Drama of Oroonoko, or, the Royal Slave (1688)" by Roy Eriksen, "From Aphra Behn to Anna Maria Falconbridge: Views of Eighteenth-Century West Africa" by Barbara Britton Wenner, and "Vocality, Subjectivity and Power in Oroonoko and Joan Anim-Addo's Imoinda" by Aspasia Velissariou. Eriksen argues that "studies focused precisely on gender, race, colonialism, politics and biography have dominated" scholarship on Oroonoko "to the near exclusion of discussions of the more technical and generic kind" (p. 121). He examines the generic influence of the mannerist novella, hagiography, parable, "topographical description" (p. 125), and typology on the composition of Oroonoko. Wenner's comparative discussion of Oroonoko and Falconbridge's Two Voyages to Sierra Leone (1794) is thin and not thoroughly enough researched to establish Behn's influence on Falconbridge. A modern edition of the 1802 edition of Falconbridge's text is referenced in Works Cited; the short title of the 1802 edition is given incorrectly in the introduction to the essay.
Velissariou's essay is an invective against Afro-Grenadian Joan AnimAddo's libretto Imoinda: Or She Who Will Lose Her Name (2003), a transposition of Oroonoko into a radical black feminist historiography. Velissariou judges the identity politics of Anim-Addo's project to be "facile" (p. 183) and essentialist. Anim-Addo recomposes "the disparate materials and encounters of the seventeenth-century Atlantic" which make up Behn's Oroonoko, developing a foundational narrative of Afro-Caribbean women's experience. Enslavement, the Middle Passage, and cross-racial rape, the last staged with intertextual reference to bondswoman Mary Prince's account of her owner Mr D--'s shaming abuse of her, are the originary experiences. The best insights in Rubik's collection are grounded in close knowledge of Behn's literary and cultural contexts and the intertexts of her writing; Velissariou is unfamiliar with Anim-Addo's. The final sequence of Imoinda alludes to important concepts in Afro-Caribbean literature and culture ("cross[ing] the river" [Anim-Addo 2008:92, cf., for example, Brathwaite 1968 and Phillips 1993], primary orality), West African culture (honoring of ancestors, the continuity of time), Rastafari (red symbolizing the blood of the martyrs of Caribbean history), and the radical feminism of women of color (the back as a bridge "thrown over a river of tormented history" [Moraga 1983:^]). Grace Nichols's i is a long-memoriedwoman (1990) is also a major reference point. Velissariou recognizes none of the allusions. She draws on a range of Judith Butler's theoretical formulations to sustain her attack on essentialism.
The legacies of Behn for Virginia Woolf are examined by Claudia Heuer in a finely grained essay. Wolfgang Gortschacher's study of Molly Brown's use of Behn as a character in her novel Invitation to a Funeral: A Tale of Restoration Intrigue (1995) is informative, but fairly shallow in its analytical reach.
Aphra Behn and her Female Successors draws on papers presented at the third conference of the professional association Aphra Behn Europe. As with many collections based on conference papers, the quality, scope, and ambitiousness of the contributions are uneven, and some would have benefited from stringent refereeing and editing. An index would have been useful.
Anim-Addo, Joan, 2008. Imoinda: Or She Who Will Lose Her Name. London: Mango.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau, 1968. Masks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Doyle, Laura, 2008. Freedom's Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
Moraga, Cherrie, 1983. Preface. In Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua (eds.), This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Latham NY: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, pp. xiii-xix. [Orig. 1981.]
Nichols, Grace, 1990. i is a long-memoriedwoman. London: Karnak House.
Phillips, Caryl, 1993. Crossing the River. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Prince, Mary, 1831. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself. London: F. Westley & A.H. Davis and Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes. [3rd ed.]
Woolf, Virginia, 1977. A Room of One's Own. London: Grafton. [Orig. 1929.]
English Program, La Trobe University
Melbourne 3086, Australia
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|Publication:||New West Indian Guide|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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