Aphra Behn

(1640 - 1689)


Behn, the first woman in Britain to make a living by writing. She served as a spy during the Dutch war of 1664-67 but was never paid for her services; as a result she went to prison for debt.


Aphra Behn: a brief chronology

1640: Born. Details of her early life are vague. Birthplace may have been Kent, maiden name may have been Johnson. Also, she may have been adopted.

1663: Her (adopted?) father is appointed Lieutenant Governor of Surinam. The family travels to Surinam by ship, but her father dies on the voyage.

1664: Returns to London. She marries a Dutch merchant named Behn, who later dies in the Plague. Or does she? Some writers have suggested her dead husband may have been a fabrication created to give her an air of respectability.

1666: She travels to Antwerp as a spy during the war against the Dutch. She is not paid for her services and has to borrow money in order to return home.

1667: Returns to London, heavily in debt.

1668: Unable to pay her debts, she is arrested and taken to prison. It is not clear which prison she went to, how long she was incarcerated, or who came up with the money to get her relased.

1670: She makes her debut as a playwright; The Forc'd Marriage is performed at the Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

1672: Believed to have edited The Covent Garden Drollery , a collection of poems.

1673: The Dutch Lover is produced at the Duke's company's new Dorset Garden Theatre.

1677: Premiere of her best-known play, The Rover .

1680: The Revenge , attributed to Aphra Behn.

1681: The Rover Part II

1682: Aphra is arrested for an "abusive" and "scandalous" epilogue attacking the Duke of Monmouth. The two theatre companies (the Duke's and the King's) merge.

1687: Wrote poems: A Pindaric to Christopher, Duke of Albemarle ; and To the Memory of George, Duke of Buckingham . Her former lover, John Hoyle, is arrested and tried for sodomy.

1688: Published several short novels: The Fair Jilt ; Agnes de Castro ; and Oronooko.

1689: Publishes two novels: The History of the Nun ; and The Lucky Mistake. Dies April 16 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. John Hoyle is believed to have written the epitaph on her black marble stone:

"Here lies a proof that wit can never be Defence enough against mortality." [3]