Who was Aphra Behn, the spy, trailblazer and ‘grandmother of English literature’?

She first labored for the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company gamers as a scribe. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage, was produced in 1671 and the most profitable, The Rover, premiered in 1677 at the Dorset Garden Theatre.

Like her fellow libertines, Behn wrote “saucy” poetry, each humorous satires and extremely erotic love letters to girls and to males, exploring gender fluidity, bisexuality and male impotence. They are actually principally collected in Miscellany, Poems on Several Occasions, and Lycidus, or The Lover in Fashion. But the well-known horny story believed to be by her is Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, based mostly on a real-life affair that was an enormous scandal at the time between Lady Henrietta Berkeley and her brother-in-law.

Further “sexy reading” is perhaps the poems through which Behn clearly expresses erotic attachments to different girls, resembling To the Fair Clarinda the place she writes: “For no sure crime with thee we can commit. Or if we shou’d – thy Form excuses it.”

Though for milder writing that’s nonetheless about intercourse, Cornell nominates Behn’s poem The Disappointment, a few man about to have intercourse with an harmless magnificence – “his burning trembling Hand he prest Upon her swelling Snowy Brest” – however finally, he can’t carry out: “The Insensible fell weeping in his hand.”

But followers are eager to level out that there was extra to her than salacious satire. “We have to be careful to not just reduce Aphra Behn to just a sexy woman,” says Todd. “She was an extraordinary writer who valued wit and cleverness over goodness and virtue, as well as civic order over democracy – attitudes which may now make us a little uneasy.”

The literary pioneer was additionally a fiction author, who mastered French to English translations, and has been hailed for her novella Oroonoko, revealed in 1688, about an African prince who’s captured, enslaved and transported by an English captain.

“For me, she’s the equivalent of Vivienne Westwood today,” says Gilbreath who was first launched to Behn whereas engaged on a manufacturing of The Rover in 2017. “When we think of Vivienne Westwood we think about someone who challenges the establishment and recreates her own genre of style. I’m not saying Aphra Behn was a fashionista, but she too pushed the boundaries of her civilised world.”

Towards the finish of her life, Behn turned very unwell however nonetheless managed to stay productive; in some of her work, she even complains about how a lot it hurts to proceed to put in writing. She died on April 16, 1689, aged 48 and even her trigger of loss of life is the topic of thriller and a lot debate.

“Contemporary evidence suggests that she died as a result of an operation that went wrong, but other people talk of her being syphilitic and having an STD,” says Cornell. “Equally, it could have been breast cancer as some other resources suggest.”

Behn is buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey, close to the steps up into the church, alongside some of her male counterparts together with Francis Beaumont and John Dryden. And her headstone reads: “Mrs Aphra Behn Dyed April 16 A.D. 1689. Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.”

“It’s our responsibility to actually bring her back into our national consciousness,” says Gilbreath. “Even though she was ahead of her time, even by today’s standard, she’s sort of been consigned to nothing.”

Back to top button