Behn, Aphra

Aphra Behn (ăf´rə bān, bēn), 1640–89, first professional female English author. Little is known of her early life, but there is evidence that c.1658 she married a London merchant of Dutch descent named Behn. After the death of her husband, Aphra Behn became an English spy in the Dutch Wars (1665–67), adopting the pseudonym Astrea, under which she later published much of her verse. Her career as a secret agent was unsuccessful, and she returned to England exhausted and penniless, forced even to serve time in debtors' prison. By 1670 her first play had been performed, and by 1677 she gained her much desired fame with the eminently successful production of The Rover. All her plays are noted for their broad, bawdy humor. Despite her success as a playwright, however, her best literary achievement can be found in her novels. The most notable of these is Oroonoko (1688), a heroical love story, the first philosophical novel in English. Aphra Behn was famous for her lifestyle as well as her works; her denial of woman's subservience to man and her high-living, bohemian existence has led critics to describe her as the George Sand of the Restoration and a forerunner of the feminist movement. Her literary reputation declined rapidly in the 18th cent., but Montague Summers's collected edition of her work (6 vol., 1915) revived an interest in her.

See biography by F. M. Link (1968); A. Goreau, Reconstructing Aphra: A Social History of Aphra Behn (1980).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Oroonoko: Selected full-text books and articles

Oroonoko and Other Writings By Aphra Behn; Paul Salzman Oxford University Press, 1994
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Arms and the Woman: Narrative, Imperialism, and Virgilian Memoria in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko By Ortiz, Joseph M Studies in the Novel, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820 By Catherine Gallagher Clarendon Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Author-Monarch and the Royal Slave: Oroonoko and the Blackness of Representation"
Trying to Frame the Unframable: Oroonoko as Discourse in Aphra Behn's 'Oroonoko.' By Pigg, Daniel Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 34, No. 1, Winter 1997
Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance By Joseph Roach Columbia University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "Oroonoko and the Empire of the World" begins on p. 152
Translating Slavery: Gender and Race in French Women's Writing, 1783-1823 By Doris Y. Kadish; Françoise Massardier-Kenney Kent State University Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Translation in Context"
The Colonial Rise of the Novel By Firdous Azim Routledge, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Slavery and Sexuality In Oroonoko"
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