E 316K - Aphra Behn - Aphra Behn (ca. 1640-1689) Little is...

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Aphra Behn (ca. 1640-1689) Little is known of Behn’s early life; during the final years of the Commonwealth, she may have served Charles II as a spy In 1663 he arrived in the English sugar colony of Surinam, an island off the Venezuelan coast; with her mother and sisters, she resided at a plantation owned by Sir Robert Harley She may have acted in an intelligence capacity under the name of Astrea, which she later adopted for a spy mission to Antwerp and in her literary career Behn left Surinam in 1664, just before the fall of the colony to the Dutch in the Anglo-Dutch War She married a German merchant, Johann Behn, but Behn either died or they were separated soon thereafter; Behn entered the king’s service and traveled to Antwerp in 1666 to turn a Dutch agent named William Scot back to the English side Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage , was performed in London in 1670; although other women wrote for the Restoration stage, Behn was by far the most prolific--some 19 of her plays were performed between 1670 and her death in 1689 (only John Dryden staged more) Behn wrote tragedy and comedy, much of it emphasizing the relationship between sex and power; one play, The Amorous Prince , refers openly to homosexuality and fornication, and demonstrates the abuse of royal power when a prince is governed by sex over reason; another, The Dutch Lover , explores an incestuous relationship Behn’s most popular play, The Rover (1677), featured a comic drunken rake, a sprightly heroine, and an impassioned whore; it was performed twice at court for James, Duke of York, the later James II A propagandist for Charles II during the Exclusion Crisis, the king tired of Behn’s libertinism and freethinking and had her arrested and imprisoned for a brief period During the 1680s, Behn’s health declined, but her art did not; she turned to novel-writing and produced a popular epistolary novel of more than 1,000 pages analyzing erotic arousal Behn’s reputation declined during the Victorian period, but revived in the twentieth century; Virginia Woolf wrote that Behn was the first woman who made it acceptable for a woman to speak her mind
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Oroonoko (1688) Oroonoko , one of Behn’s five works of short fiction, explores the colonial story of a king and slave turning the tables on his European captors; it was later used as an abolitionist tract According to the text, Behn became acquainted with John Trefry, the agent of Lord Willoughby, the proprietor of Surinam, and with George Marten, brother of the famous republican Henry Marten In Oroonoko the narrator is the daughter of a gentleman, almost certainly a more elevated identity for Behn herself, who may have been the daughter of plebeian barber from Canterbury, Bartholomew Johnson Behn’s final play was set in Virginia and involved a political rebellion and doomed hero, similar to the hero of Oroonoko It is tempting to read Oroonoko as an anti-slavery tract, as
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E 316K - Aphra Behn - Aphra Behn (ca. 1640-1689) Little is...

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