|Who is it?||Playwright|
|Birth Place||Canterbury, British|
|Died On||16 April 1689 (aged 48)\nLondon, United Kingdom|
|Baptised||14 December 1640|
|Resting place||Westminster Abbey|
|Occupation||novelist, dramatist, poet|
All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds... 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.
Shortly after her supposed return to England from Surinam in 1664, Behn may have married Johan Behn (also written as Johann and John Behn). He may have been a merchant of German or Dutch extraction, possibly from Hamburg. He died or the couple separated soon after 1664, however from this point the Writer used the moniker "Mrs Behn" as her professional name.
By 1666 Behn had become attached to the court, possibly through the influence of Thomas Culpeper and other associates. The Second Anglo-Dutch War had broken out between England and the Netherlands in 1665, and she was recruited as a political spy in Antwerp on behalf of King Charles II, possibly under the auspices of courtier Thomas Killigrew. This is the first well-documented account we have of her activities. Her code name is said to have been Astrea, a name under which she later published many of her writings. Her chief role was to establish an intimacy with william Scot, son of Thomas Scot, a regicide who had been executed in 1660. Scot was believed to be ready to become a spy in the English Service and to report on the doings of the English exiles who were plotting against the King. Behn arrived in Bruges in July 1666, probably with two others, as London was wracked with plague and fire. Behn's job was to turn Scot into a double agent, but there is evidence that Scot betrayed her to the Dutch.
In all she would write and stage 19 plays, contribute to more, and become one of the first prolific, high-profile female dramatists in Britain. During the 1670s and 1680s she was one of the most productive playwrights in Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden.
Behn may have had a Catholic upbringing. She 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. She was a monarchist, and her sympathy for the Stuarts, and particularly for the Catholic Duke of York may be demonstrated by her dedication of her play The Rover II to him after he had been exiled for the second time. Behn was dedicated to the restored King Charles II. As political parties emerged during this time, Behn became a Tory supporter.
Ironically, the current revival of her reputation rides on the work Oroonoko (1688), a story that is taken to promote modern, progressive views on gender, race and class. Todd maintains that the fiction has been co-opted by modern interests and that such views are not views that Behn clearly expressed. Her reputation is not helped by the fact that almost nothing is known of her first 27 years; and while she was a pioneer, she also faced debt for much of her life and was a propagandist and Writer for hire. She was ambitious, desiring fame and literary prestige, which for a woman of the time and in times since, is often regarded as suspect.
In her last four years, Behn's health began to fail, beset by poverty and debt, but she continued to write ferociously, though it became increasingly hard for her to hold a pen. In her final days, she wrote the translation of the final book of Abraham Cowley’s Six Books of Plants. She died on 16 April 1689, and was buried in the East Cloister Westminster Abbey. The inscription on her tombstone reads: "Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality." She was quoted as stating that she had led a "life dedicated to pleasure and poetry."
Information regarding Behn's life is scant, especially regarding her early years. This may be due to intentional obscuring on Behn's part. One version of Behn's life tells that she was born to a barber named John Amis and his wife Amy. Another story has Behn born to a couple named Cooper. The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn (1696) states that Behn was born to Bartholomew Johnson, a barber, and Elizabeth Denham, a wet-nurse. Colonel Thomas Colepeper, the only person who claimed to have known her as a child, wrote in Adversaria that she was born at "Sturry or Canterbury" to a Mr Johnson and that she had a sister named Frances. Another contemporary, Anne Finch, wrote that Behn was born in Wye in Kent, the "Daughter to a Barber". In some accounts the profile of her father fits Eaffrey Johnson.
Behn's life has been adapted for the stage in the 2014 play Empress of the Moon: The Lives of Aphra Behn by Chris Braak, and the 2015 play [exit Mrs Behn] or, The Leo Play by Christopher VanderArk. She is one of the characters in the 2010 play Or, by Liz Duffy Adams. Behn appears as a character in Daniel O'Mahony's Newtons Sleep, in Phillip Jose Farmer's The Magic Labyrinth and Gods of Riverworld, in Molly Brown's Invitation to a Funeral (1999), and in Diana Norman's The Vizard Mask. She is referred to in Patrick O'Brian's novel Desolation Island.
Following the death of Behn, new female dramatists such as 'Ariadne', Delarivier Manley, Mary Pix, Susanna Centlivre and Catherine Trotter acknowledged Behn as their most vital predecessor, who opened up public space for women Writers. During the 19th century, both the Writer and her works were ignored or dismissed as indecent. Victorian-era Novelist and critic Julia Kavanagh wrote that, "the disgrace of Aphra Behn is that, instead of raising man to woman's moral standard, [she] sank woman to the level of man's coarseness". Nineteenth-century commentator John Doran wrote that her work wallowed in the moral morass.