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Aphra Behn "The Coquet"

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 4 months ago

Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in English, lived from 1640 to 1689. After John Dryden, she was the most prolific dramatist of the Restoration, but it is for her pioneering work in prose narrative that she achieved her place in literary history.

She was born Aphra Johnson near Canterbury, England in 1640. She was the daughter of an innkeeper and as a child she was taken to Surinam, West Indies. While there, she met an enslaved Negro prince, Oroonoko, who was the basis for a novel she wrote later. She returned to England between 1658 and 1663 and married a merchant named Behn but was widowed after three years of marriage.

In the meantime, she had entered court circles and was employed as a spy at Antwerp for King Charles II in the war against the Dutch (1665-1667). She provided political and naval information to the English government, but was paid very little or not at all, and on her return to England was imprisoned briefly for debt.

Aphra Behn had at some time previously acquired schooling in languages and in literature and soon turned to writing poetry, novels, and plays to earn a living. She wrote The Forced Marriage (1670), The Rover (1678), The Feigned Courtizans (1678), The City Heiress (1682). Her plays were very successful and were performed under royal patronage by the Duke's Theatre Company. In 1688, she published the novel, Oroonoko, or the History of the Royal Slave. This novel introduces the idea of a noble savage, which was later developed further by Jean Jacques Rousseau and it may be the first English philosophical novel.

Aphra Behn's influence was later applauded by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own, but during her own time she was suspected of plagiarism and accused of lewdness because of her gender.

Aphra Behn died on April 16, 1689 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.


The Coquet

ByAphra Behn

Melinda, who had never been

Esteemed a beauty at fifteen,

Always amorous was and kind.

To every swain she lent an ear,

Free as air but false as wind;

Yet none complained she was severe:

She eased more than she made complain,

Was always singing, pert, and vain.

Where'er the throng was, she was seen,

And swept the youths along the green.

With equal grace she flattered all,

And fondly proud of all address,

Her smiles invite, her eyes do call,

And her vain heart her looks confess.

She rallies this, to that she bowed,

Was talking ever, laughing loud.

On every side she makes advance,

And everywhere a confidence;

She tells for secrets all she knows,

And all to know she does pretend.

Beauty in maids she treats as foes,

But every handsome youth as friend;

Scandal still passes off for truth,

And noise and nonsense, wit and youth.

Coquet all o'er and every part,

Yet wanting beauty even of art,

Herds with the ugly and the old,

And plays the critic on the rest;

Of men the bashful and the bold

Either and all by turns likes best.

Even now, though youth be languished, she

Sets up for love and gallantry.



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