Aphra Behn: 1640 (?) – April 16, 1689

Aphra Behn, the woman who made it possible for us women to speak our minds (at least according to Virginia Woolf), died 327 years ago today. Not only was she the first professional woman writer in the English language, she (probably) traveled to the English colony of Surninam, wrote prose works that could be argued to be predecessors of the genre of the novel, was a spy in the Netherlands for Charles II, and spent time in debtor’s prison as a result of expenses accrued in service to the crown. But instead of letting that defeat her, she went on to reinvent herself and become a vanguard for women writers. If all of that doesn’t make her worthy of more attention, than I don’t know what does!

Aphra Behn, portrait by Mary Beale
Aphra Behn: 1640 (?) – April 16, 1689

In honor of the occasion, here a brief excerpt from my novel Chameleon in a Mirror, a time travel homage to Aphra Behn:

Thomas Killigrew gave a marginally respectful nod of his head. He had been in the royal employ too long and in too intimate of circumstances to maintain reverence for his sovereign. “You should hear the petitioner, Your Majesty. She is the mother of one who was your spy in Flanders, and her petition has the support of Colonel Culpepper.”
“Blustery fool,” His Majesty said.
Thomas Killigrew nodded. “Certainly. But Mrs. Johnson’s claims are not unmerited. Her daughter Mrs. Behn had a great deal of expense in Flanders, and she served Your Highness faithfully. Perhaps you remember her — it was she who provided the feather headdresses and ornaments used in The Indian Queen and The Indian Emperor.”
“Ah!” Killigrew had finally caught the attention of his fickle employer. “A vivacious copper-haired beauty, as I recall.” Killigrew nodded. “She presented quite an extraordinary assortment of creatures from America for my collection.”
“That she did, Your Highness.”
“We would not want to see a beautiful woman rot in debtor’s prison now, would we, Mr. Killigrew?”
“Hardly, Sire.”
The King examined his fine, long hands, certainly more beautiful than his wide, long nose. “The woman was not as persuasive in Flanders as we expected.”
“No, she was not,” Killigrew agreed.
“Beautiful women should use their bodies when they want to live by their wits.”
The King’s Groom of the Bedchamber snorted. “And kings should use their wits more and their pricks less.”
Charles laughed out loud. “After those lovely bugs she gave us we do owe her something, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely, Your Highness.”
“Show the mother in.”

The rest, as they say, is history. 🙂

Chamelon in a Mirror

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2 thoughts on “Aphra Behn: 1640 (?) – April 16, 1689”

  1. I went to see a play recently called “Playhouse Creatures” which was about some of the early actresses on the English stage, Nell Gwyn included. There was a brief reference to Aphra as well, which I only really picked up on having read your book a few weeks earlier. It’s a fascinating period!

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