I finished the “fast” (ahem) read-through of Chameleon in a Mirror yesterday, and the last chapter reminded me that today is the anniversary of Aphra Behn’s death. And then it occurred to me that I could actually do something in honor of the occasion this year — by beginning to post chapters of the novel. I run The Aphra Behn Page, a site dedicated to Behn’s life and works, and so I’ve decided to start uploading the chapters there. I may eventually also upload to Fictionpress and/or Wattpad, but I haven’t looked into those options enough yet.
While the book has been workshopped and critiqued, I make no claims to perfection. It is NOT in an officially publishable state yet. I sent it to my critique partner yesterday, and it also still has to go through the professional proofreading process. So please forgive any mistake you find — and if you’re feeling particularly generous, let me know about them!
I will try to upload a chapter a week, but I’m not making any promises! Life happens sometimes, after all.
The blurb (as stands):
Billie (Willa) Armstrong, an American graduate student with a penchant for street music, is disenchanted with London, her lover and her academic progress. She has always wanted to discover something decisive about her idol Aphra Behn and help her attain the place in literature that she deserves, but when Billie accidentally activates the magical properties of a baroque mirror, she gets more than she bargained for. What develops is an unwilling masquerade in a tale of literary politics and passion, a high-spirited Restoration romp, as Billie does her best to survive in a strange era and ensure Aphra’s literary survival in the future.
And here’s a short taste of Chapter 1:
All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she — shady and amorous as she was — who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Professor Fogerty had a small mole near the corner of one eye, and it was twitching. Billie concentrated on the twitch to keep her temper in check. All the power might be on his side of the desk, but at least she didn’t have any nervous tics.
“You have to remember that Mrs. Behn was little more than a marginal writer, Miss Armstrong,” the professor said in that smarmy way he had. “A transitional force, yes, but not innovative, not really. If being a woman in itself were innovative — why the world would be in constant revolution.”
Billie ignored his weak attempt at a joke and took a deep breath. “But what about Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister? It was an epistolary novel written sixty years before Samuel Richardson, after all.”
He chuckled, a sound intentionally jovial. “You cannot seriously claim that Behn influenced Richardson!”
Since that was precisely what she had intended, she kept her mouth shut. It seemed she was going to have to find a different thesis advisor — or else go back home to the States in shame, without a dissertation.
Autumn sun spilled through the high windows of Fogerty’s office, hampered by streaks of grime. The buildings of London Blackfriars University were much like those of the Inns of Court nearby, lofty and arching, a metaphor for freedom of thought and high ideals made stone. It was too bad that even a modest attempt at redefining literary history had no place here, at least not as long as Fogerty had a say in it.
“What I’m trying to show is that Behn used autobiographical material in a very original way, and it influenced a number of people,” Billie said carefully.
“Miss Armstrong, Mrs. Behn was a hack — a very talented hack, but a hack nonetheless.” He shook his massive head. “Don’t get carried away by causes in your academic work. Literature is not about the odds.”
“But she was one of the most respected dramatists of the Restoration,” she couldn’t help protesting.
Fogerty’s insincere smile spread across his face. “Respected? Come now, Miss Armstrong! Certainly you know of the lampoons written about her?”
“Those were written about her morals, not her writing. A lot of her contemporaries were envious of her success.”
“It’s a mistake to equate popularity with literary merit.”
“Oh, I would never make that mistake,” she muttered under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Defoe for one respected Aphra Behn,” she said, loud enough for him to hear. “He called her one of the ‘giants of wit and sense’ — along with Milton, no less.”
He gazed at her critically over the top of his glasses. “Are you implying that Behn influenced Defoe now?”
Billie couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer. “Among others, yes,” she said, rising and gathering up the papers on the desk between them. Her preliminary abstract for her dissertation, all shot to hell now. “I see I will have to reconsider my approach.”
Fogerty rose too and shook her hand. “Very wise, Miss Armstrong. I’ll be looking forward to your new proposal.”
She shut the door of his office behind her, closing her eyes briefly. That had gone even worse than she’d expected. It was well known that Fogerty had been bullied into helping host the upcoming Aphra Behn symposium after Billie’s former advisor had been bullied out of the department, but she hadn’t realized his resentment of a female playwright dead for over three hundred years went that deep. But what did it mean for the symposium? Maybe Fogerty and his ilk — the ones who had mobbed Professor Bentley until she fled to a foreign university with a Women’s Studies department — thought they could turn the clock back, envisioning themselves as an antidote to the Great Feminist Danger and its Trivializing Impulses. …
Continue reading here.