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[Aphra Behn, 1640-1689]
Aphra Behn, 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.
[Selected Works]
* The Dream
* To the Fair Clarinda
The Dream
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!
To the Fair Clarinda
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.
[Where to read more...]
* Aphra Behn Page
* Project Aldus - Aphra Behn
* Aphra Behn, Oronooko, or The Royal Slave (available online)
* Aphra Behn, The Rover: Or, The Banish'd Cavaliers (available online)
* Aphra Behn, The City Heiress
* 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 (1688)
* Aphra Behn, A Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684)
* 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, 1977)
* Germaine Greer, The Uncollected Verse of Aphra Behn (Essex, England:
Stump Cross, 1989)
* Frederick M. Link, Aphra Behn (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968)
* 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, 1948)
* Aphra Behn -- The Unfortunate Happy Lady: A True History