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Aphra Behn (1640–1689)

Author of Oroonoko

87+ Works 3,571 Members 52 Reviews 13 Favorited

About the Author

Aphra Behn is often considered the first Englishwoman to support herself as a writer. She was unquestionably the leading woman playwright of the Restoration period. Behn is also notable for her poetry and fiction. While still in her twenties, she traveled with her family to Surinam, in South show more America, where she witnessed a slave insurrection, much like the rebellion that figures prominently in her novel Oroonoko (1688), a work that introduced the character of the noble savage. Behn was well connected at court and for a brief time was sent to Antwerp as a spy. Around 1670, with the help of John Dryden, she established a career in the theater, and, during the following two decades, rarely was her work absent from the London stage. Among the comedies that bear the special stamp of her libertine, feminist, and Tory political views are The Dutch Lover (1673), The Feign'd Curtezans (1679), and her best-known works, The Rover (1677) and The Rover, Part II (1681). Readers seeking an introduction to the skill and sensibility of Aphra Behn will do well to look into her lyric poetry, which is often represented in recent anthologies of women writers. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Portrait by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680): Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-127791) (cropped)

Works by Aphra Behn

Oroonoko (1688) 1,115 copies
The Rover (1677) 393 copies
Oroonoko and Other Writings (1994) 289 copies
Five plays (1990) 32 copies
The Works of Aphra Behn (1995) — Author — 24 copies
Oroonoko | The Fair Jilt (1953) 24 copies
Selected Poems (1993) 14 copies
The Widow Ranter (1689) 8 copies
Restoration Tragedies (Oxford Paperbacks) (1977) — Contributor — 6 copies
Covent Garden drollery; a miscellany of 1672 — attributed editor — 4 copies
Sir Patient Fancy (2004) 3 copies
Emperor of the Moon (2010) 1 copy
The Uncollected Verse (1989) 1 copy
[Ten plays] 1 copy

Associated Works

Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (1995) — Contributor, some editions — 902 copies
The Penguin Book of Women Poets (1978) — Contributor — 295 copies
Erotica: Women's Writing from Sappho to Margaret Atwood (1990) — Contributor — 168 copies
The Penguin Book of Women's Humour (1996) — Contributor — 115 copies
Poems Between Women (1997) — Contributor — 89 copies
The Virago Book of Wicked Verse (1992) — Contributor — 82 copies
Popular Fiction by Women 1660-1730: An Anthology (1996) — Contributor — 74 copies
Shorter Novels: Seventeenth Century (1930) — Contributor — 43 copies
Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001 (2014) — Contributor — 38 copies
The Oxford Book of English Love Stories (1996) — Contributor — 34 copies
Masters of British Literature, Volume A (2007) — Contributor — 20 copies
Men and Women: The Poetry of Love (1970) — Contributor — 8 copies
American Aphrodite (Volume Two, Number Six) (1952) — Contributor — 4 copies
American Aphrodite Vol. 2 No. 7 (1952) — Contributor — 4 copies
American Aphrodite (Volume Two, Number Eight) (1952) — Contributor — 3 copies
Ten English farces (1948) — Contributor — 3 copies
Die edlen Wilden (1989) — Contributor — 3 copies
American Aphrodite (Volume Two, Number Five) (1952) — Contributor — 2 copies


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Common Knowledge

Legal name
Behn, Aphra
Other names
Johnson, Aphra (birth name)
Astrea (spy name)
Date of death
Burial location
Westminster Abbey, London, England, UK
Country (for map)
Wye, Kent, England
Place of death
London, England
Places of residence
Wye, Kent, England (birth)
Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium
London, England, UK
The Fair Triumvirate of Wit
Short biography
Aphra Behn was one of the first English women to make a living as a writer. She was a popular and prolific Restoration playwright and poet (her pen name was Astrea). She also worked as a spy for King Charles II. Virginia Woolf wrote, "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." Not many facts are known about her personal life. She was born Aphra Johnson, and probably lived in Surinam in 1663–64. She may have married a Mr. Behn in 1664, though some have suggested she took a married name for greater propriety and protection. From 1666–67, she served King Charles II as a spy in Antwerp, incurring debts in her work which went unpaid – Charles II was notoriously slow in paying bills – and then served a stint in debtors' prison. Her first performed play was The Forc'd Marriage (1670), a popular and financial success. Many other successful plays followed. In 1688, Aphra Behn published Oroonoko, a short novel about a noble slave and his tragic love. It was an instant success, going through many reprints, and may be her best-known work today. At her death in 1689, she was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, where her stone still rests at Poets' Corner.




This book, published in 1688, is brutal, by a woman “often cited as the first known professional female writer.” Prince Oroonoko‘s betrothed is sold into slavery. Then he is tricked by an evil English slave trader and sold into slavery. Shipped to Suriname, he finds his lover owned by the same master. Initially treated well because of his royalty, he is betrayed again. So he kills his love, and himself in the most gruesome of ways. All of this in the summary, so no spoilers. But that‘s the entire story. Beautiful imagery of the country, Behn is a lovely writer. I‘m trying to decide if she was opposed to slavery. Some times she seems to excuse it, but given the brutality of the story I tend to think she very much opposed it. A hard but short read. Prepare yourself accordingly if you decide to read it.… (more)
KarenMonsen | 29 other reviews | Nov 25, 2023 |
The story of Oroonoko, a prince, and his wife, Imoinda. Imoinda is a beauty and Oroonoko's grandfather, the king, wishes to have her for his own. Both Imoinda and Oroonoko are subsequently enslaved. Inspired by a trip to Surinam, Aphra Behn's view of slaves is very much of her time--a sort of mingling of the noble savage, fierce warrior myth and the born to serve myth.

I think this is worthwhile as a measure of how early the use of slave labor was recognized as being immoral in truth. Written in the 1600's there can be no doubt that Behn was bothered by the institution as it existed. There is a morbid fascination you feel while reading it. I wanted to put it aside, and yet I wanted to finish to the bitter end.… (more)
mattorsara | 29 other reviews | Aug 11, 2022 |
So its kind of like 'Amistad' mixed with 'Braveheart' :) . Short tale of an african prince who finds himself on a slave plantation. Reminded me of a shakespearean tragedy at times too. Has the feel of non-fiction in parts, those odd inconsistencies which tend to denote real events.
Its narrative structure is unusual in that about half is from the title characters point of view and the rest from the authors.
While i thought it was fine until about half-way i was still expecting to give it 2 stars but it finishes strongly.… (more)
wreade1872 | 29 other reviews | Nov 28, 2021 |
An interesting commentary on men as they are/were and women's role in society as it was. Hellena's tale was maddening (given the current state of political affairs) and Florinda's even more so (given the progress we have made regarding female worth).

Behn's prose isn't as lovely as Shakespeare's but, unlike some of Shakespeare's tales, seems to be less happy with the status quo (which I can stand behind). But, in my 21st century mind, I really think she settled in her perception of Hellena's future.… (more)
OutOfTheBestBooks | 4 other reviews | Sep 24, 2021 |



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Associated Authors

John Dryden Contributor
John Banks Contributor
Nathaniel Lee Contributor
Thomas Otway Contributor
A. B compiler
Alexander Brome attributed editor
Janet Todd Editor
John Fletcher Contributor
Joseph Haines Contributor
William Basse Contributor
William Wycherley Contributor
Lola Beccaria Introduction


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