APHRA BEHN Biography - Writers


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Aphra Johnson was born on 1640 in Near Canterbury, England and died on 16 April 1689,       
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 revived an interest in her.