Aphra Behn

Have you heard of Aphra Behn? Virginia Woolf said that every female writer should lay flowers on her grave in Westminster Abbey – but good luck finding it. She’s not buried with the other writers, but in a rather obscure corridor.

Aphra had been a spy for Charles II. When that stopped, and she was broke, she turned to writing, and was monumentally successful. She wrote plays and poetry, and not neat little vignettes about village life – the ladylike choice – but gloriously filthy, funny work.

So why didn’t I hear about her at school? Why are her plays never revived, as Sheridan’s and Beaumont and Fletcher’s are? Why isn’t she in the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey?

Well, she got forgotten because she was a woman, and not just a woman who write meekly mild plays, but who challenged the male dominated theatre. But she was the first of us to take that male world, invade it, and not just become part of it, but dominate it.

Every female writer owes a debt to her, because she was the first of us to succeed, and she did it magnificently.


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