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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689), Writer and poet

b. 10 July 1640
d. 16 April 1689

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.
-Virginia Woolf

Aphra Behn, by Mary Beale

Aphra Johnson, second daughter of Bartholomew Johnson and Elizabeth Denham, baptized December 14 at Harbledown outside of Canterbury, is one of the earliest women writers to attempt to earn her living by writing. Behn challenged patriarchal ideology not just as a woman writer unambiguously on the market, but one expressly associated with sexual critique and the sophisticated genres of the theatre, scandal fiction and amatory poetry.

Novelist, poet, playwright, and spy during the Anglo-Dutch war, she became known as the "English Sappho" for her poems. Contemporary gossip most commonly linked her to John Hoyle, a lawyer, rake and "known bisexual" who was unsuccessfully tried for sodomy, and much salacious speculation on the nature of her "friendship" with Oroonoko, the "slave prince" of Surina, in the West Indies, followed by the pubblication of Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave (1688). She is buried in Westminster Abbey.


Aldrich R. and Wotherspoon G.- et alii : Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History Vol.1: From Antiquity to the Mid-Twentieth Century , Routledge, London, 2001

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