40 Facts About Aphra Behn


Aphra Behn belonged to a coterie of poets and famous libertines such as John Wilmot, Lord Rochester.


Information regarding Aphra Behn's life is scant, especially regarding her early years.


The Histories and Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs Aphra Behn states that Aphra Behn was born to Bartholomew Johnson, a barber, and Elizabeth Denham, a wet-nurse.


Aphra Behn is said to have been betrothed to a man named John Halse in 1657.


Aphra Behn, though, seemed to believe that learning Greek and Latin, two of the classical languages at the time, was not as important as many authors thought it to be.


Later in life, Aphra Behn would make similar gestures to ideas revolving around formal education.


Aphra Behn was born during the buildup of the English Civil War, a child of the political tensions of the time.


One version of Aphra Behn's story has her travelling with a Bartholomew Johnson to the small English colony of Surinam.


Aphra Behn was said to die on the journey, with his wife and children spending some months in the country, though there is no evidence of this.


In Oroonoko, Aphra Behn gives herself the position of narrator and her first biographer accepted the assumption that Aphra Behn was the daughter of the lieutenant general of Surinam, as in the story.


Aphra Behn died or the couple separated soon after 1664; however, from this point the writer used "Mrs Behn" as her professional name.


Aphra Behn once commented that she was "designed for a nun," and the fact that she had so many Catholic connections, such as Henry Neville who was later arrested for his Catholicism, would have aroused suspicions during the anti-Catholic fervour of the 1680s.


Aphra Behn has been placed in Westminster, in lodgings close to Sir Philip Howard of Naworth, and that it was his connections to John Halsall and Duke Ablemarle that led to her eventual mission in the Netherlands.


Aphra Behn's job was to turn Scot into a double agent, but there is evidence that Scot betrayed her to the Dutch.


Aphra Behn's exploits were not profitable, however; the cost of living shocked her, and she was left unprepared.


Aphra Behn had written poetry up until this point.


Again, Aphra Behn used the play to comment on the harmful effects of arranged marriages.


Aphra Behn did not hide the fact that she was a woman, instead she made a point of it.


Aphra Behn tackled the critics head on in Epistle to the Reader.


Aphra Behn argued that women had been held back by their unjust exclusion from education, not their lack of ability.


Critics of Aphra Behn were provided with ammunition because of her public liaison with John Hoyle, a bisexual lawyer who scandalised his contemporaries.


Aphra Behn gradually moved towards comic works, which proved more commercially successful, publishing four plays in close succession.


Aphra Behn was attacked for her private life, the morality of her plays was questioned and she was accused of plagiarising The Rover.


Aphra Behn countered these public attacks in the prefaces of her published plays.


Aphra Behn's plays were staged frequently and attended by the King.


Aphra Behn became friends with notable writers of the day, including John Dryden, Elizabeth Barry, John Hoyle, Thomas Otway and Edward Ravenscroft, and was acknowledged as a part of the circle of the Earl of Rochester.


Aphra Behn became heavily involved in the political debate about the succession.


Aphra Behn supported the Tory position and in the two years between 1681 and 1682 produced five plays to discredit the Whigs.


Aphra Behn published five prose works under her own name: La Montre: or, the Lover's Watch, The Fair Jilt, Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave, The History of the Nun and The Lucky Mistake.


Aphra Behn translated from the French and Latin, publishing translations of Tallement, La Rochefoucauld, Fontenelle and Brilhac.


Until the mid-20th century Aphra Behn was repeatedly dismissed as a morally depraved minor writer and her literary work was marginalised and often dismissed outright.


The life and times of Behn were recounted by a long line of biographers, among them Dyce, Edmund Gosse, Ernest Bernbaum, Montague Summers, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, George Woodcock, William J Cameron and Frederick Link.


Summers was fiercely passionate about the work of Aphra Behn and found himself incredibly devoted to the appreciation of 17th century literature.


Aphra Behn was rediscovered as a significant female writer by Maureen Duffy, Angeline Goreau, Ruth Perry, Hilda Lee Smith, Moira Ferguson, Jane Spencer, Dale Spender, Elaine Hobby and Janet Todd.


Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.


The current project of the Canterbury Commemoration Society is to raise a statue to Canterbury born Aphra Behn to stand in the city.


Aphra Behn is one of the characters in the 2010 play Or, by Liz Duffy Adams.


Aphra Behn appears as a character in Daniel O'Mahony's Newtons Sleep, in Philip Jose Farmer's The Magic Labyrinth and Gods of Riverworld, in Molly Brown's Invitation to a Funeral, in Susanna Gregory's "Blood On The Strand", and in Diana Norman's The Vizard Mask.


Aphra Behn is referred to in Patrick O'Brian's novel Desolation Island.


In recognition of her pioneering role in women's literature, Aphra Behn was featured during the "Her Story" video tribute to notable women on U2's North American tour in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.