The Secret Life of Aphra Behn

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But, as Todd points out, Behn has never become the household name she deserves to be, as the first woman to properly earn her living by the pen. This revised biography seems to be driven by a continuing desire to bring Behn to a wider audience. Todd is not attempting to seek acclaim for an inferior writer simply for the fact she was female.

Biography of Aphra Behn

Indeed, Aphra Behn was a writer of uncommon skill and wit who was greatly celebrated in her time alongside her male counterparts, and her themes of gender, race and class remain pertinent to this day. Her success was remarkable too for the fact that she was from an ordinary family and not one of the educated aristocrats who wrote for private circulation.

The problem with writing about an individual whose activities are designed to be secret is that there are few hard facts on which Todd can hang her story and so she leans heavily on supposition. This makes for a narrative that at times lacks drive and definition, relying on suggestions that Behn might have done such-and-such or she may have met so-and-so and revealing the impossibility of ever fully unmasking her subject.

This is not the fault of the biographer but rather her desire to avoid misleading the reader with definitive statements where facts are elusive. What is beyond doubt is that Behn mixed with the most fascinating of company from both the low and high life. She met Charles II and his brother and heir James, while royal mistress Nell Gwynn and celebrated author Dryden were amongst the famed and infamous who inhabited her world. She had a close relationship with the libertine Earl of Rochester. She was also highly political with resolutely royalist beliefs, which she forwarded in her work, something Todd points out as contradictory to her position as a renegade to convention, being a woman without a man, who earned her own living and lived a sexually liberated lifestyle unbound by the morals of the day.

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The Secret Life of Aphra Behn

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