Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn, The
The barest facts of the life of Aphra Behn are astonishing in themselves. Born in 1640 of comparatively obscure parentage in Kent, she had, by her mid-twenties, travelled to South America, returned to England, been married and widowed. She was sent by Charles II as a spy to Antwerp and became involved in the complex politics of the Anglo-Dutch War; then, on her return, she was imprisoned for debt. Once out of prison, she was faced with the problem of survival, and the options open to a dowerless but beautiful woman in the 17th century were few. She could marry, she could be kept or she could try to keep herself. Incredibly, it must have seemed to many people, she chose the last and became one of the most successful dramatists of the Restoration theatre, author of one of the most popular and influential novels of the period, Oroonoko, and a poet of such reputation that men at the time were moved to consider seriously the possibility of a ‘female laureate’.