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  • Aphra Behn (/ ˈ æ f r ə b ɛ n /; 14 December 1640

Link, Frederick M. Aphra Behn. Twayne’s English Authors 63. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Aphra Behn, In Our Time - BBC Radio 4

Portrait of Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) painted by Mary …

Wiseman, S. J. Aphra Behn. Writers and Their Work. Plymouth, UK: Northcote House, 1996.
Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was a Restoration dramatist and a professional author, one of the first English women ever to earn a living through her writing. We know little of her early life. She was born of obscure, likely lower-class parentage, and probably traveled to the English colony in Surinam for a brief time around 1663. This trip would later provide her with the inspiration for , the longest and most famous of her short tales. On her return to Europe she served for a time as a spy in Antwerp, working for King Charles II and the English Protestants. She later began an outrageous career as a professional writer: at the time, for a woman to sell her own work to the public was highly unusual, and even considered scandalous. That she remained involved in politics all her life (sometimes ending up in jail for it) and wrote erotic poetry as well as bawdy Restoration comedies only added to the many charges of indecency leveled against her by her contemporaries. She was often at the brink of financial disaster, and once stated that she was "forced to write for bread and not ashamed to owne it." Virginia Woolf has said of her, "She had to work on equal terms with men. She made, by working very hard, enough to live on. The importance of that fact outweighs anything that she actually wrote, even the splendid 'A Thousand Martyrs I have made,' or 'Love in Fantastic Triumph Sat,' for here begins the freedom of the mind, or rather the possibility that in the course of time the mind will be free to write what it likes. ... All women together ought to let flowers upon the tomb of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."

Aphra Behn - Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 18

Engraving of Aphra Behn after a lost portrait by John Riley (1646-1691)
Famously claimed in this essay from 1929 that all women must “let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn . . . for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” (p. 60), but had a low opinion of Behn’s artistic merits, arguing that earning her livelihood was more important than literary quality.

 

Aphra Behn | Great Writers Inspire


England's increased role in the slave trade came about largely because of the need for labor on its plantations in Barbados, Surinam, and Jamaica. Rather than have English colonists buy slaves from the Dutch, in 1660 King Charles II established a new company to run the African slave trade: in this way England could control and profit from the sale of slaves to its own colonies. Most of these slaves were sold in Barbados, and numbered in the tens of thousands. But even in the short-lived English colony in Surinam , the number of black slaves more than doubled the number of white colonists by the time Aphra Behn's was first published.


Though the slave trade would hit its true peak in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, already it was an enormously expanding business in the seventeenth, in the era when Aphra Behn lived and wrote. To give some sense of its rate of expansion: scholars estimate that in the sixteenth century some 240,000 African slaves were being shipped to America, whereas by the seventeenth century that number would reach 1.3 million. As the trade itself expanded, the nations most invested in it evolved as well. In the previous century it had been the Portuguese who had controlled the trade, followed by the Dutch in the early decades of the seventeenth century. But by the latter half of the seventeenth century it was England who dominated the slave trade.


Aphra BEHN (1640 - 1689) - LibriVox

For more information on Aphra Behn, I can recommend a very comprehensive biography, written by Janet Todd, titled "The Secret Life of Aphra Behn", published 1996. This also contains images of a number of other portraits also reputed to be of Aphra Behn.

Behn, Aphra (1640 - 1689) Original Text: ..

The portrait of Aphra Behn, painted by Mary Beale, now hangs in St Hilda's College in Oxford. It has a note on the back of it confirming that it was given by Capt CH Heath-Caldwell to Miss MV Wakefield-Richmond who is noted as a biographer of Aphra Behn. It is a small portrait in oil, measuring approximately 12 inches in height. A small plaque beside it states that it was given to St Hilda's by Miss M.V. Wakefield-Richmond.

Browse By Author: B - Project Gutenberg

In 1949 Linley Wood was, together with most of the contents of the house, sold by Capt CH Heath-Caldwell. No record exists of what happened to the portrait of Aphra Behn but an elderly member of the family remembers CH Heath-Caldwell giving the portrait away to someone who had an interest in Aphra Behn.

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - Episode guide

In addition to this list, stuck into the page, is a small newspaper clipping regarding a letter from Montague Summers to the Editor of the Times. Montague Summers states that he is about to publish a new 6 volume edition of the complete works of Aphra Behn and that he would be very interested in making contact with the owner of the portrait of Aphra Behn by Mary Beale. The date is November 16 but the exact year is not recorded. It may have been earlier than FC Heath-Caldwell's list, possibly 1914, as in 1915 William Heinemann published a 6 volume set titled "Works of Aphra Behn edited by Montague Summers"