Aphra Behn

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ‘ 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’. Behn may well have spent some of her early life in Surinam, the setting for her novel Oroonoko, and there are records of her working in the Netherlands as a spy for Charles II. She was loyal to the Stuart kings, and refused to write a poem on the coronation of William of Orange. She was regarded as an important writer in her lifetime and inspired others to write, but fell out of favour for two centuries after her death when her work was seen as too bawdy, the product of a disreputable age.

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  • Janet Todd 3 episodes
    Former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University
  • Ros Ballaster No other episodes
    Professor of 18th Century Literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxford
  • Claire Bowditch No other episodes
    Post-doctoral Research Associate in English and Drama at Loughborough University

Reading list

  • Aphra Behn: The Comedies
    Kate Aughterson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) Google Books →
  • Seductive Forms: Women's Amatory Fiction 1684-1740
    Ros Ballaster (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1991)
  • Oroonoko
    Aphra Behn (ed. Joanna Lipking) (Norton and Co, 1997) Google Books →
  • Oroonoko and Other Writings
    Aphra Behn (ed. Paul Salzman) (Oxford University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • The Rover and Other Plays
    Aphra Behn (ed. Jane Spencer) (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Oroonoko
    Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd) (Penguin Classics, 2003) Google Books →
  • Oroonoko, the Rover and Other Works
    Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd) (Penguin Classics, 1999) Google Books →
  • The Complete Works of Aphra Behn : 7 vols
    Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd) (Pickering and Chatto, 1992-6) Google Books →
  • The Works of Aphra Behn
    Claire Bowditch (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)
  • New Light on Aphra Behn
    W. J. Cameron (University of Auckland Press, 1961) Google Books →
  • The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn, 1640-89
    Maureen Duffy (Jonathan Cape, 1977) Google Books →
  • The Theatre of Aphra Behn
    Derek Hughes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001) Google Books →
  • Versions of Blackness: Oroonoko, Race and Slavery
    Derek Hughes (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Aphra Behn's Afterlife
    Jane Spencer (Oxford University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • Aphra Behn Studies
    Janet Todd (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • Aphra Behn: A Secret Life
    Janet Todd (Fentum Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn
    Janet Todd and Derek Hughes (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 2004) Google Books →
  • Aphra Behn
    S. J. Wiseman (Northcote House, 1996) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b0977v4t

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0977v4t

Auto-category: 823.5 (English fiction – 17th century)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Aphra Behn was a prolific playwright for the Restoration stage, a poet, a writer of fiction and a sometimes spy, and her life spanned one of the most turbulent times in English history.