Recommended reads

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.
— Virginia Woolf

I adore books. I worked in publishing for many years and ended up taking an English Literature degree with the Open University - I didn't mean to but I loved the content and my fellow students across the internet so much , that I carried on!

One of the discoveries I made was a female author from the late seventeenth century called Aphra Behn. In her lifetime she published poems and plays that were considered scandalous. She claimed that if they had been written by a man, then would never been seen as improper.

Born in Wye, she traveled with her mother and a man, Johnson, who may have been her father or adoptive parent, to the West Indies. On the journey, Johnson died, leaving Behn, her mother and brother. This period had an effect on her life and her feelings are recorded in the novel Oroonoko, published in 1688. On her return to Britain, she took the name Behn and referred to herself as 'Mrs' though it's unclear if she was married to the man thought to be her partner.

Without funds after her partner's death, she became a spy to King Charles and was abandoned by the King in Belgium. Forced to borrow money to travel home, she was thrown into a debtors prison and vowed, as written in The Forc'd Marriage (1671) that she would never rely on anyone for money again. From thereon she earned money as a novelist, poet and worked in the theatre until her death in April 1689.

In her lifetime she attracted a reputation for creating powerful female characters and was heralded as the successor to Sappho, acquiring the nom de plume 'The Incomparable Astrea'. Her work is often addressed to society and features contemporary events, employing satire on the topics of love and sex.

In The Rover (1677), her most famous play, three powerful female characters argue wittily for their rights in a male dominated society. In the play, two women battle for the affections of the cavalier Willmore. One is the sparky Hellena, who declares that she would rather become a nun than be forced into marriage with a man she does not love; the other is the prostitute Angellica Bianca. In the struggle, Hellena and Angellica have to battle against the limitations of sex and social class. The play, which is set in Naples amidst a licentious society of libertines and Spanish noblemen, is strikingly relevant and feminist in its frank discussion of gender roles and pleas for sexual freedom.

At the time I studied the play, I saw several productions and was struck by the interpretations. Without question it's bawdy, relevant and does much to parody a group of love struck Englishmen, lost in Spain.