Aphra Behn Additional Biography

Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The details of Aphra Behn’s birth are not known. The parish register of the Sts. Gregory and Martin Church, Wye, England, contains an entry stating that Ayfara Amis, daughter of John and Amy Amis, was baptized on July 10, 1640. Apparently, John Johnson, related to Lord Francis Willoughby of Parham, adopted the girl, although no one seems to know exactly when. Ayfara Amis (some sources spell her first name as Aphara) accompanied her adoptive parents on a journey to Suriname (later Dutch Guiana) in 1658, Willoughby having appointed Johnson to serve as deputy governor of his extensive holdings there. Unfortunately, the new deputy died on the voyage; his widow and children proceeded to Suriname and took up residence at St. John’s, one of Lord Willoughby’s plantations. Exactly how long they remained is not clear, but certainly the details surrounding the time Behn spent at St. John’s form the background for Oroonoko.

Biographers have established the summer of 1663 as the most probable date of Behn’s return to England. By 1665, Behn was again in London and married to a wealthy merchant of Dutch extraction who may well have had connections in, or at least around, the court of Charles II. In 1665 came the Great Plague and the death of Behn’s husband; the latter proved the more disastrous for her, specifically because (again for unknown reasons) the Dutch merchant left nothing of substance to her—nothing, that is, except his court connections. Charles II, in the midst of the first of his wars against Holland, hired Behn as a secret government agent to spy on the Dutch, for which purpose she proceeded to Antwerp, a Belgian city near the border with Holland. There she contacted another British agent, William Scott, from whom she obtained various pieces of military information, which she forwarded to London. Although she received little credit for her work, and even less money, Behn did conceive of the pseudonym Astrea, the name under which she published most of her poetry.

The entire adventure into espionage proved a dismal failure for Behn; she even had to borrow money and pawn her valuables to pay her debts and obtain passage back to England. Once home, early in 1667, she found no relief from her desperate...

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Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Although the details surrounding the life of Aphra Behn have at least become stabilized, they have not always been clear. Her earliest biographer, the poet Charles Gildon (1665-1724), maintained that she was born at Canterbury, in Kent, the daughter of a man named Johnson. In 1884, however, Edmund Gosse discovered a marginal note in a manuscript belonging to the poet Anne Finch, countess of Winchelsea (1661-1720), revealing that Behn had been born at Wye, near Canterbury, the daughter of a barber—which John Johnson certainly was not. The countess’s note receives support from an entry in the parish register of the Saints Gregory and Martin Church, Wye, to the effect that Ayfara Amis, daughter of John and Amy Amis, was baptized there on July 10, 1640. Apparently Johnson, related to Lord Francis Willoughby of Parham, adopted the girl, although no one seems certain of the exact year. Nevertheless, Ayfara Amis accompanied her stepparents on a journey to Surinam (later Dutch Guiana) in 1658, Lord Willoughby having appointed Johnson to serve as deputy governor of his extensive holdings there. Unfortunately, the new deputy died on the voyage; his widow and children proceeded to Surinam and took up residence at St. John’s, one of Willoughby’s plantations. The exact length of their stay has yet to be determined; later biographers, though, have settled upon the summer of 1663 as the most probable date of return. The family’s tenure at St. John’s forms the background of Behn’s most celebrated production, her novel Oroonoko.

By 1665, the young woman was established in London, married to a wealthy Dutch merchant (or at least a merchant of Dutch ancestry) who may well have had connections in or around the court of Charles II. In 1665 came the Great Plague and the death of Behn’s husband; his death proved disastrous for Behn. For unknown reasons, the Dutch merchant left her nothing of substance—with the possible exception of his connections at court. Charles II, in the midst of his first war against the Dutch, hired Behn as a secret agent to spy against Holland; for that purpose, she proceeded to Antwerp. There she contacted another agent, William Scott, from whom she received various pieces of military information for forwarding to London. Although her work earned her little acknowledgment and even less money, Behn did conceive of the pseudonym Astrea, the name under which she published most of her poetry. Essentially, the venture into foreign intrigue proved a dismal failure for her; she had to borrow money and pawn her few valuables to pay her debts and provide passage back to England.

Once home, early in 1667, Behn found no relief from her desperate financial situation. Her creditors threatened...

(The entire section is 1118 words.)

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111204743-Behn.jpg Aphra Behn Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Concerning the family background and early life of Aphra Behn (bayn), virtually nothing is known with certainty. The sparse information that exists is usually contradictory. A parish register in the town of Wye shows that a baby named Aphara Amis was baptized in that town, in the county of Kent, England, on July 10, 1640. It is likely that she was born in the same year and in the same county, and Aphara Amis probably became Aphra Behn. While her literary works show that she was widely read, with a knowledge of several languages, nothing is known about her education. Early in life, she traveled to Surinam (modern Guyana), where she remained for a few months; the trip left an enduring impression and provided materials for her prose...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aphra Behn was the first woman in the history of English literature to earn her living as a writer. Behn’s plays reflect the exuberant spirit of Restoration drama and succeeded with audiences of her time; some were regularly performed into the eighteenth century. Her primary significance to literary history, however, lies in her prose fiction. She is an important figure in the transition from the prose romances of the Renaissance to the modern novel. Her narrative art assures her interest to literary historians, and her humanitarian themes endow her works with lasting relevance.

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aphra Behn (bayn) has been called the first woman to support herself by her writing, yet her origins are so controversial and obscure that scholars are not even sure of her name. Some accounts claim that she was born Aphra or Aphara Amis, and one states that she was a barber’s daughter named Aphra Johnson. As a young woman she journeyed with her family to Suriname, where her father (or foster father) was to be the lieutenant-governor, but he died at sea. Apparently Aphra and her mother and brother stayed for several years in Suriname, where she met William Scot, the son of the regicide Thomas Scot. About 1658, she returned to England, married a Dutch merchant named Behn, and was soon left a destitute widow.

To...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Biography

(Drama for Students)

Aphra Behn Published by Gale Cengage

Aphra Behn, a favorite of feminist literary critics, is considered to be the first woman to have made a living through her writing. There...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Biography

(Drama for Students)

Many of the facts about the early life of the dramatist, poet, and novelist Aphra Behn are matters of conjecture. It is likely that she was...

(The entire section is 470 words.)