6 November 2013
Professor Janet Todd’s biography - The Secret Life of Aphra Behn has just been publishjed as an ebook by Bloomsbury
About The Secret Life of Aphra Behn
‘All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn; for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds,’ said Virginia Woolf. Yet that tomb, in Westminster Abbey, records one of the few uncontested facts about this Restoration playwright, poet, novelist and spy: the date of her death, 16 April 1689. For the rest secrecy and duplicity are almost the key to her life. She loved codes, making and breaking them; writing her life becomes a decoding of a passionate but playful woman.
Janet Todd draws on documents she has rediscovered in the Dutch archives, and on Behn’s own writings, to tell a story of court, diplomatic and sexual intrigue, and of the rise from humble origins of the first woman to earn her living as a professional writer.
Aphra Behn’s first notable employment was as a Royal spy in Holland; she had probably also spied in Surinam. It was not until she was in her thirties that she published the first of the 19 plays and other works which established her fame (though not riches) among her ‘good, sweet, honey-candied readers’. Many of her works were openly erotic, indeed as frank as anything by her friends Wycherley and Rochester. Some also offered an inside view of court and political intrigues, and Todd reveals the historical scandals and legal cases behind some of Behn’s most famous ‘fictions’.