Earning the right to speak her mind:Etiological authority in the rhetoric of Aphra Behn's prose fiction




Robitaille, Marilyn Marlow

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In her prose fictions, Aphra Behn's rhetorical strategies distinguish her as an innovator of novelistic discourse and as a writer whose texts hold richly layered symbolic elements. Couching her fiction in the historical and factual modes, Behn blatantly denies the fictive process while plunging into it headlong. In producing the resulting blend of factual context and imaginative narrative, Behn employs a technique which predates the journalistic style of Defoe by almost thirty years. She writes from an energy produced by consistently re-visioning nature through the filter of poetic imagination. This examination of the rhetorical foundations of selected prose fictions illustrates Behn's accomplishments as a writer whose etiological authority derives its power from the artful precision with which she shapes the real world into a fictive sphere.

This dissertation applies elements of chaos theory to examine the rhetorical strategies which Behn employs in selected prose fictions, including Oroonoko, Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, and "The Fair Jilt." Behn's innovative narrative techniques create constructs whose subtextual arrangements display the rhetorical schematics of such theorists as Coluccio Salutati, Giambattista Vico, and Ernesto Grassi. This study exams Behn's role as an innovator of the novel form, offers a theory of the origins of the British novel, and explores Behn's methodology for assembling the labyrinthine reality of her fictions. In selected, short fictions, Behn's epistemological contexts rely heavily on the emblematic significance of her characters and their situations. This dissertation also investigates these alternative, subtextual lines of narrative by applying Vico's philosophy of ingenium. An analysis of audience reception of her work, Behn's promotion of other women writers, and the extent of her influence on the expanding, seventeenth-century female readership concludes the study.



social sciences, language, Behn, Aphra, seventeenth century