Known as the first woman in England
to make a living by writing
. She started out by writing plays
, but after she found herself out of work due to some theatre company amalgamation
she started writing novel
s, which at the time, was a brand new form of literature
Her life before she started writing is unclear, and the subject of much debate. The most common and latest infomation reads like so:
Born in 1640, most likely the daughter of a common barber from Canterbury, and a gentlewoman, Elizabeth, from the county of Kent. Her mother worked at a wet nurse for the Culpeppers of Kent, a rather famous aristocratic family, from which General Culpepper came. So Aphra, along with her sister, and perhaps her brother, spent much time in the Culpepper household, and thus became familiar with the ways of high society.
At some point Aphra learned French and Dutch, and in the 1660s, her father was appointed to go to Surinam on duty for the government. The family set off, but her father died on the journey. So after a brief stay, Aphra, her mother, sister, and brother returned to England. It is speculated they took a Danish ship, upon which Aphra and her sister each met a man they would later marry. Johann Behn was to be Aphra's husband, and he was most likely a Dutch-speaking German, and a sailor of some sort, it is assumed. The marriage, for unknown reasons ended (Johann may have died of the plague), and Aphra was left with a new surname and no husband, or means of supporting herself.
Briefly, Aphra was employed as a spy by the reigning monarch, Charles II. She worked in Holland, and sent several letters from Amsterdam. Upon returning however, she was not paid for her work.
She was then imprisoned for a short period, because of her debts. So she decided to become a playwright. She wrote a large number of rather raunchy plays, most of which were staged. He most famous play is The Rover (1677). When she moved on to writing novels, she found more success, one of her most popular works is the novel Oroonoko.
Aphra Behn died in either 1688 or 1689, and during the last part of her life, she was a very famous figure and activist in England. She very strongly supported the royalist movement, and likely lived just long enough to see it go up in flames with the succession of William and Mary in 1689.