All small girls dream
Of playing spy, but some should
Stick to writing plays.
Today on Playwright Week, we have English playwright and all-purpose writer, Aphra Behn!
Behn was probably born in 1640. We don’t really know anything solid about her early life, both because she wasn’t in any way noble and because she put out all sorts of storied about these years. Account seem to agree that her pops was a barber, but was her maiden name Johnson? Amis? Cooper? Did her family travel to Surinam, or nah? Fuck if we know.
We do know she got attached to a dude named Johan Behn in 1664, but we don’t even know if they married or not. Regardless, he was soon out of the picture, just in time for her to enter the service of Charles II (King of Parties) as… a SPY!
The Second Anglo-Dutch War began in 1665. Behn’s mission, as Agent Astrea, was to go and seduce a dude and turn him into a double agent. She failed hard and the dude snitched on her. To make matters worse, the funds Chuck gave her weren’t nearly enough to pay for her expenses (and being shit with cash, didn’t have more to give her), and she wound up in debtor’s prison. (She WAS out of London for its fire and plague troubles of 1666, so she had that going for her.)
How fix? Writing! Making her pretty much the first English woman to make her living that way. Her most popular play was 1681’s ‘The Rover’, a comedy featuring crossdressing, duels, mistaken identities, sex jokes, and everyone’s favorite Protestant whore, Nell Gwynn! (Chuck was a big fan.)
While she kept writing until her death in 1689, she fell out of favor for being totally pro-James II and probably a Catholic. But this didn’t stop her from publishing what’s probably her most famous work a month before she died – the novel ‘Oronooko: or, The Royal Slave’. Unlike her plays (dismissed as far too sexy), ‘Oronooko’ enjoyed popularity for centuries due to its perceived abolitionist message.
She’s buried in Westminster Abbey, which is apparently lousy with writers.