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Aphra Behn Biography

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(1640-1689) British writer. Aphra Behn is one of the most famous women writers in literature, partly because she was one of the first, but also because of the controversies that have surrounded her life and works. Although there's a great deal of mystique surrounding the life of Aphra Behn, we have very few really concrete details about her life...

Aphra Behn Birth:

Aphra Behn was born in Kent around 1640. Her maiden name was Johnson, and she was the daughter of an innkeeper.

Aphra Behn Death:

Aphra Behn died on April 16, 1689. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Aphra Behn Marriage:

In 1664, Aphra Behn married a city merchant (Behn) who died within two years.

Aphra Behn Professions:

Aphra Behn became a professional spy for Charles II. She was code-named "Astrea" or Agent 160. She provided political and naval information to the English government during the war with the the Dutch. Then, when she returned to England, she was imprisoned briefly for debt.

Aphra Behn Achievements:

Aphra Behn's first play, The Forced Marriage, appeared in 1670. Fourteen other plays would follow, including her famous The Rover (1677-81), along with The Amourous Prince (1671), Covent Garden Drollery (1672), The Dutch Lover (1673), Abdelazer (1676), The Town Fop (1677), The Feigned Courtizans (1678), Sir Patient Fancy (1678), The City Heiress (1682), The Young King (1683), The Lucky Chance (1686), and others. Although her plays were generally well-received, she was accused of plagiarism and lewdness.
The Rover was a rewriting or substantial "borrowing" from Thomas Killigrew's Thomaso. In 1683, Behn's "Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister" was published. The work is considered the first epistolary novel of any consequence in English literature. The following year, her first book of poems, entitled "Poems on Several Occasions," was published. And "Miscellany" was published in 1685.

Behn is probably most remembered for her Oroonoko, or the History of the Royal Slave, based on her visit to Surinam as a young girl. Some have called this book the first English philosophical novel.
The following year, her first book of poems, entitled "Poems on Several Occasions," was published. And "Miscellany" (another collection of poems) was published in 1685.

Behn is probably most remembered for her "Oroonoko, or the History of the Royal Slave." The novel is based on her visit to Surinam as a young girl. Some have called this book the first English philosophical novel.

Quotes from "Song Love Arm'd":

"Love in fantastic triumph sat,
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flow'd,
For whom fresh pains he did create,
And strange tyrannic power he shew'd;
From thy bright eyes he took his fire,
Which round about in sport he hurl'd;
But 'twas from mine he took desire[br} Enough to undo the amorous world."

Aphra Behn Brief Biography:

During her life, she was often criticized and chastised for vulgarity. Her themes weren't considered appropriate; and her colorful life only further marginalized her from the canon of serious literature.

In more recent years, Behn's work has been rediscovered and reevaluated. Virginia Woolf wrote, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."

In total, she produced 17 plays, 30 works of fiction, poetry, and other works. The controversy that surrounded her life (and even her works) now serves to add further mystery to Behn, the literary legend. She was a spy, turned writer, and so much more...

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