Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was born n Canterbury, probably daughter to Bartholomew Johnson and Elizabeth Denham (though accounts differ, and much of her early history has been reconstructed on  the basis of conflicting versions that have come down of her) and the foster sister of Thomas Culpeper in whose house she may have been educated. There seems to have been a close relation between her family and that of Lord Willoughby, Governor of Surinam. Her father travelled to the colony in 1663, taking his family with him. Behn claimed to have witnessed the slave rebellion there and its barbarous crushing, which she wrote about many years later in the novel Oroonoko (1688), (dramatized by Thomas Southerne in 1695). She returned to England in 1664 where she apparently married the Dutch merchant, whose name she kept and who probably died in the Great Plague of 1666. Aphra Behn lived out the rest of her life as a widow. That same year, she went to Holland to spy for Charles II, a job she undertook to support herself, sending back useful information about a planned Dutch invasion, under the code name, Astrea, later her pseudonym. She went unpaid for her activities and, on her return to England, was thrown in jail for debt. Her career as the first woman to make a living from writing came from being “Forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it”. She also produced novels such as Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684-7), a romance in verse and prose A Voyage to the Island of Love (1684); Poems on Several Occasions (1684) and translations of authors including Ovid and Sappho. Her plays include: Abdelazar (1677); The Rover (Part 1, 1677); The False Count (1682); The Lucky Chance (1686); The Widow Ranter (1690); The Forced Marriage (1671); The Dutch Lover (1673); The Debauchee (1677); Sir Patient Fancy (1678); The Feigned Courtesans (1679); The Rover (Part 2, 1681); The Roundheads (1682); and The City Heiress (1682).
Back to Authors List