Poet, spy, dramatist, translator, whore, royalist, disgrace and wallower in the moral morass; Aphra Behn is a complicated woman. Her origins were probably humble, but we can only speculate about most of her life before the age of 27 when her work as a spy for King Charles II was officially documented in court records.  It is probable she had spied or carried illicit messages even before that, perhaps introduced into that world by a childhood friend with connections at court.

Her marriage was short-lived (if it ever really happened) and she had no known children, but her writings were prolific. Her plays The Rover and The City Heiress earned her a reputation as a peddler of smut, but she was also immensely popular.  Fiercely loyal to Charles the II and the royal cause her whole life, she rejected progressive ideals that modern Feminists espouse.  But her openness about female sexuality and desire, including homosexual love, and her self-sufficiency as a breadwinner broke the mold of expected female behavior.  “The disgrace of Aphra Behn is that, instead of raising man to woman’s moral standard, [she] sank woman to the level of man’s coarseness”.

Hell yeah, she did.