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Mallipeddi, Ramesh. “Spectacle, Spectatorship, and Sympathy in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko,” ECS, 45 (Summer 2012), 475–496.

We should declare a moratorium on writing about Behn’s most popular story, at least until someone comes up with something genuinely new to say about it. Mr. Mallipeddi has not done so.

He starts from the premise that Oroonoko is an early abolitionist tract—a highly dubious assumption, given the virtuous hero’s enthusiastic taking and selling of slaves and given his long speech toward the end explaining when slavery is and is not justified. Mr. Mallipeddi calls on the jargon of the “specular” and the “exotic” to explain how Behn, for the first time in English, treats blackness of skin as having no negative moral valence, and elicits sympathy for the African whose body has been “commodified.”

Acknowledging that Behn’s story is made complicated by the fact that her sympathy is not for any ordinary African, but for a “prince,” Mr. Mallipeddi does not take the next step: there is nothing here about Oroonoko as a defense of the Stuarts at a particularly difficult time or about Behn’s treatment of religion in the tale.

Another reading of Oroonoko would have it that “race” (if we can even use that category in 1688) is nowhere near Behn’s central concern in her story: that what matters to her is class, and the inborn quality of being a divinely chosen monarch. But these are old debates. It is time for something new.


Liebert, Elisabeth. “‘In Spight of the Criticks’: Generic Complexity in Cavendish’s Convent,” RECTR, 25 (Winter 2010), 35–47.

This essay usefully organizes the burgeoning scholarship on Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure into a helpful explanation of the play’s generic complexity—despite the author’s simple subtitle, A Comedy. The essay focuses on a series of tableaux presented to the characters within the play in act 3. Noting modern readers’ displeasure with the concluding nuptials that put an end to the heroine’s experiment with celibate life in a self-designed convent, Ms. Liebert ingeniously argues that the tableaux simultaneously engage three [End Page 1] distinct, noncomedic genres: masque, liturgical drama, and philosophical allegory. The Jonsonian masque is prefaced by an anti-masque that fails to follow the convention of representing disorder as a disruption of the status quo. Instead it locates violence, irrationality, and tyranny in one of the bedrocks of the current system, marriage, which the masque proper expels by a reenactment of the postulates’ shared decision to enter the convent. Similarly, reading the tableaux as liturgical drama identifies men as the source of evil, or sin, and the convent as a place in which to worship nature. In what is perhaps her strongest section, Ms. Liebert deftly explicates the allegorized Epicurean philosophy; pleasure is the absence of pain caused by men.

Cavendish’s radical thought jars with the conservative comic ending in which the convent’s leader agrees to marry. Such an analysis surely does, as argued, help us understand our own conflicted reactions to The Convent of Pleasure. But Ms. Liebert might have drawn more forceful conclusions, for her fine analysis reveals an audacious reversal of the patriarchal, Anglican power structure in which Cavendish was immersed, while the romantic conclusion stands as an ironic and patently half-hearted reassertion of that structure. As such, the play conforms to an enduring pattern of comedy as disorder resolved into a conservative social, religious, and economic order represented by marriage. But, as this essay makes clear, the play’s generic complexity radically redefines order (not to mention chaos, sin, evil, the divine, pleasure, and happiness) with stunning vision and boldness.


Bartolomeo, Joseph F. “‘New People in a New World’?: Defoe’s Ambivalent Narratives of Emigration,” ECF, 23 (Spring 2011), 455–470.

Taken together, the travels to America of Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack cannot be seen as “propaganda for emigration, transportation of criminals, and indentured servitude.” Mr. Bartolomeo, as he admits, is not the first to argue against the novels as promoting emigration, but freshly scrutinizes Moll’s and Jack’s journeys.

They travel to...