Aphra Behn Long Fiction Analysis
In the early twentieth century, Vita Sackville-West, in trying to estimate Aphra Behn’s contribution to English fiction, asked, “What has she left behind her that is of any real value?” Sackville-West bemoaned Behn’s failure in her fiction to reflect fully London life, London characters, London scenes; her attention to exotic themes, settings, and characters merely debased and wasted her narrative gifts. Such a judgment, while plausible, fails to consider Behn’s fiction in its historical and biographical context. Her tales abound with German princes, Spanish princesses, Portuguese kings, French counts, West Indian slaves, and various orders of bishops, priests, and nuns, yet Behn’s real world was itself highly artificial, even fantastic: the intrigue of the Stuart court, the ribaldry of the London stage, the gossip of the drawing room, the masquerade, and the card parlor. Behn, in her real world, took in the same scenes as did John Dryden, Samuel Pepys, and the earl of Rochester. Thus it may be too hasty to assert that her fiction neglects her actual experience in favor of fantastic and faraway window dressing.
In Agnes de Castro, Behn lets loose various powers of love, with the result that her heroines’ passions affect the fortunes of their lovers. Thus, Miranda (The Fair Jilt) reflects the raving, hypocritical enchantress whose very beauty drives her lovers mad, Ardelia (The Nun) plays the capricious...
(The entire section is 1764 words.)
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