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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Oroonoko is a short novel by Aphra Behn (June 10, 1640 – April 16, 1689), published in 1688, concerning the love of its hero, an enslaved African in Surinam in the 1660s, and the author's own experiences in the new South American colony. It is generally claimed (most famously by Virginia Woolf) that Aphra Behn was the first professional female author in English, living entirely by her own earnings. While this is not entirely true, Behn was the first professional female dramatist, as well as one of the first English novelists, male or female. Although she had written at least one novel previously, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is both one of the earliest English novels and one of the earliest by a woman.

Behn worked for Charles II as a spy during the outset of the Second Dutch War, working to solicit a double agent. However, Charles either failed to pay her for her services or failed to pay her all that he owed her, and Behn, upon returning to England, needed money. She was widowed and destitute and even spent some time in debtor's prison before scoring a number of successes as an author. She wrote very fine poetry that sold well and was the basis of her fame for the following generation, and she had a number of highly successful plays staged, which established her fame in her own lifetime. In the 1670s, only John Dryden had plays staged more often than Behn. She turned her hand to extended narrative prose toward the end of her dramatic career; Oroonoko was published less than a year before her death.

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