APHRA BEHN – (1640 – 1689)
One is likely to think of a woman in the late seventeenth century as a composite of cream, honey, and roses; a creature extolled by the poets as perennially desirable and unobtainable, and always far removed from reality. But Aphra (also known as Afra, Aphara, and Ayfara) Behn was a military spy.
One of the most exotic figures of her time, she was born Aphra Johnson, in Kent. Her father was a barber, her mother a domestic. As a child she was taken to Surinam, then an English possession, where she married a merchant of Dutch extraction. Returning to England in her nineteenth year, she became the “toast of London”; she was known as “the Incomparable”; her wit was enjoyed at court for its combination of light humor and startling coarseness. After her husband’s death in her twenty-sixth year, Charles II sent her to the Netherlands during the Dutch war. The enemy succumbed to her. She had no difficulty extracting secret information, and some of the plans she communicated were of utmost importance. But there were enemies at court; jealousy was accompanied by intrigue; suddenly she fell into disfavour and poverty.
It was during the period of poverty that Aphra Behn determined to be a writer. Within two years she established herself as the first Englishwoman to earn her living as an author. Between her early thirties and late forties she wrote and produced fifteen plays, vivacious, keen, coarse, and extraordinarily versatile. In between the plays she wrote poems and novels. OROONOKO, founded upon childhood memories, is a tale of a philosophic slave in Surinam, a story which influenced the development of the novel and announced a theme which was to become the favourite of an entire movement; the theme of the Noble Savage.
As she grew older, she became more popular, sought after as a playwright and pursued as a person. In spite of being the centre of scandal at the time of her death, she was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Love in fantastic triumph sate
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed
For whom fresh pains he did create
And strange tyrannic power showed.
From thy bright eyes he took his fires,
Which round about in sport he hurled;
But ’twas from mine he took desires
Enough to undo the amorous world.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee.
Thus thou and I the god have armed
And set him up a deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed
Whilst thine the victor is, and free.
Women can and do use their sexuality to obtain whatever they want, to flatter a man is easy. Women have behaved in this way for as far back as history records. Sadly today, far too many younger women have made Men far too soft and some men have difficulty in determining their role in this World. Women should behave as women and Men should be allowed to be MEN. Hope you have enjoyed, Anna.
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) On the Cliffs of the Cornwall (1904) Famous English Composer