Aphra Behn (33k JPG image), alleged by
Vita Sackville-West to be the first women in England to earn a living
as a writer, is a bit of a mystery. Little is known about her background--who
her parents were and where she was born--but the details of her life that
are known paint the portrait of an intriguing woman.
Aphra lived for a time in Surinam, an experienced that inspired her first
novel, Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave (1688). She was married for
a short time and widowed at age 25. She secured employment as a spy for
King Charles II and was sent to Belgium in this capacity. The King refused
to pay her return trip, however, and after borrowing the funds to return,
she was thrown into debtor's prison.
After leaving prison, Aphra worked hard to make sure she was always capable
of supporting herself. She became a successful London playwright and then
a novelist. She wrote poetry, feeling that this form allowed her to express
her "masculine" side.
Aphra's opinions were unconventional, and because she openly expressed
her viewpoints in her lifestyle and through her writing, she was seen
as scandalous. Her poetry remarks on romantic relationships with both
men and women, discusses rape and impotence, puts forth a woman's right
to sexual pleasure, and includes scenes of eroticism between men.
As scandalous as her reputation was to some, her work was well-admired
by others and she earned the nickname "The Incomparable Astrea" (referring
to her spy codename of Astrea) from these admirers.
Biography by Alix North
From: A Voyage to the Isle of Love
All trembling in my arms Aminta lay, Defending of the bliss I strove
to take; Raising my rapture by her kind delay, Her force so charming was
and weak. The soft resistance did betray the grant, While I pressed on
the heaven of my desires; Her rising breasts with nimbler motions pant;
Her dying eyes assume new fires. Now to the height of languishment she
grows, And still her looks new charms put on; - Now the last mystery of
Love she knows, We sigh, and kiss: I waked, and all was done.
`Twas but a dream, yet by my heart I knew, Which still was panting, part
of it was true: Oh how I strove the rest to have believed; Ashamed and
angry to be undeceived!
Who made love to me, Imagin'd more than woman.
Fair lovely Maid, or if that Title be
Too weak, too Feminine for Nobler thee,
Permit a Name that more Approaches Truth:
And let me call thee, Lovely Charming Youth.
This last will justifie my soft complaint,
While that may serve to lessen my constraint;
And without Blushes I the Youth persue,
When so much beauteous Woman is in view.
Against thy Charms we struggle but in vain
With thy deluding Form thou giv'st us pain,
While the bright Nymph betrays us to the Swain.
In pity to our Sex sure thou wer't sent,
That we might Love, and yet be Innocent:
For sure no Crime with thee we can commit;
Or if we shou'd - thy Form excuses it.
For who, that gathers fairest Flowers believes
A Snake lies hid beneath the Fragrant Leaves.
Though beauteous Wonder of a different kind,
Soft Cloris with the dear Alexis join'd;
When e'er the Manly part of thee, wou'd plead
Though tempts us with the Image of the Maid,
While we the noblest Passions do extend
The Love to Hermes, Aphrodite the Friend.
- Aphra Behn, The
Unfortunate Happy Lady: A True History (available online)
- Aphra Behn, The
Rover: Or, The Banish'd Cavaliers (available online)
- Aphra Behn, The
City Heiress (available online)
- Aphra Behn, Oronooko,
or The Royal Slave (available online)
- Aphra Behn, The Amorous Prince (1671)
- Aphra Behn, The Lover's Watch (1686)
- Aphra Behn, Lycidus; or The Lover in Fashion (1688)
- Aphra Behn, Miscellany, Being a Collection of Poems (1685)
- Aphra Behn, Poems Upon Several Occasions (1684)
- Aphra Behn, Translator's Preface to A Discovery of New Worlds
- Aphra Behn, A Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684)
Behn, bio and links to links to books (on and by Aphra) for purchase.
From Moonstruck Drama Bookstore.
- The Aphra Behn
Page, an exploration of Behn with chronology and articles. (A few
articles are in German).
- Aphra Behn Society,
"dedicated to encouraging and advancing research that focuses on issues
of gender and/or women's role in the arts of early modern culture, circa
- Love Arm'd:
Aphra Behn and Her Pen, a play by Karen Eterovic, using the words
of Aphra Behn.
- Montague Summers (Editor), The Works of Aphra Behn, 6 volumes
(New York: Benjamin Blom, 1915, 1967)
- Angeline Goreau, Reconstructing Aphra: A Social Biography of Aphra
Behn (New York: Dial, 1980)
- W.J. Cameron, New Light on Aphra Behn (Auckland, New Zealand:
University of Auckland, 1961)
- Maureen Duffy, The Passionate Shepherdess (London: Cape,
- Germaine Greer, The Uncollected Verse of Aphra Behn (Essex,
England: Stump Cross, 1989)
- Frederick M. Link, Aphra Behn (New York: Twayne Publishers,
- Mary Ann O'Donnel, Aphra Behn: Annotated Bilbiography of Primary
and Secondary Sources (New York: Garland, 1986)
- Vita Sackville-West, Aphra Behn, The Incomparable Astrea
(London: Howe, 1927; New York: Viking, 1928)
- George Woodcock, The Incomparable Aphra (London: Boardman,