Aphra Behn (1640-1689) has been called the first professional British female writer. Behn probably visited Surinam in the 1660s, but it was not until 1688 that she wrote Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave, the novel for which she is best remembered. Although overlooked by historians of science, Oroonoko provided a description of the "numb eel," effectively introducing many Europeans to the exotic and frightening creature that would become known as the "electric eel" during the second half of the 1700s, when it would play a central role in showing the reality of animal electricity, effectively putting neuromuscular physiology on its more modern course. This article examines Behn's early life, including why she might have gone to Surinam, the sources that might have helped her write her colorful description of the eel, and how what she had written circulated widely and continued to contribute to the changing scientific landscape after her death.


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pp. 378-401
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