Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn was born in approximately 1640 in Kent, England. Though little is known about her early life, she is thought to have spent part of her childhood in Suriname and to have married a merchant by the name of Behn in 1664.

Following a separation from her husband, she traveled to the Netherlands as a spy for King Charles II. During her time in England, she went into debt and spent a brief period in debtor’s prison; after this, she turned to writing to earn a living. Despite her lack of higher education, she is now remembered as the first Englishwoman to support herself entirely through writing.

Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage (London), was produced in 1670, followed by several other tragicomedies, including The Amorous Prince (London, 1671) and The Rover (London, 1677). She is also remembered for her fiction, especially the short novel Oroonoko (W. Canning, 1688), which dealt with themes of race and gender and influenced the development of the modern novel.

Along with her plays and novels, Behn wrote poetry, published in Poems upon Several Occasions, with The Voyage to the Island of Love (R. Tonson and J. Tonson, 1684) and Lycidus; or, The Lover in Fashion (Joseph Knight and F. Saunders, 1688). She was a literary icon during her lifetime, and since her death she has been celebrated for her independence and concern for equal rights. She died in April, 1689, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.