Aphra Behn's “Nun” Novels:
The History of the Nun; or, The Fair Vow-
Breaker and The Nun; or, The Perjur'd
Beauty: A True Novel
AT THE TIME APHRA BEHN WAS WRITING MOST OF HER NOVELS, toward the end of her life from 1686 to 1689, England was suffering from political unrest. The contending political parties were also subdivided between those who feared papal intervention as a threat to English sovereignty and the smaller number of those who favored Catholicism. As representative of the majority, “the Parliament of 1685 was more royalist in sentiment than the Cavalier Parliament, but there was one thing which it would never help James to do—to subject church and country to Roman Catholicism.”1 In spite of this anti-Catholic atmosphere, Behn was using Spanish texts from a writer profoundly affected by the Counter-Reformation and was transforming them into acceptable forms for the prevailing ideology. As had appeared in her comedies, there are a number of mixed voices in her novels, too, one of them Spanish. Dialogization reaches its peak when her artistic production is centered upon recreating Spanish tales in prose.
As she does for her plays, Behn transforms the given voices for her novels, providing a perfect example of what M. M. Bakhtin calls “dialogized heteroglossia.” That is, the different linguistic units that form the heteroglossia of the text interact between the fixed system of language and the particular utterances at different levels. As these contrary forces stress the language, they produce dialogization. In novels, the narrator of a story places the tale within the frame of the normal, accepted literary language and incorporates in it his or her particular “verbal-ideological linguistic belief system.” At every moment, each speaking character