All Women Writers Together

All Women Together.......
 ‘All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn…
for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.’
(Virginia Woolf).
APHRA – The Inspiration: Imagine a woman who writes. She’s blazing a trail of poetry and drama and words, but she’s in debt, lacking time, scandalizing friends and society; she’s a ‘darling’ among the creative set but struggles to gain acceptance in the eyes of the wider public.  Aphra Behn, writing nearly four hundred years ago, overcame each of these challenges and became the first great English female writer. Her life might have been very different from ours, but the challenges and experiences that she had around her development as a writer are not so very different from our own. We, too, are busy women, working women; we are women with professional and familial obligations and responsibilities; we struggle to find time, we struggle to make financial ends meet; and we are women who write. None of us are big published writers, but we share an interest – even passion - for writing and a desire to find a way to write within the crammed corners of our lives.  We have named our community in honour of Aphra Behn’s life. We do not have publishing credentials – yet – but we are inspired by the story of Aphra Behn’s life, by her achievements, talents and integrity. And we think that Aphra would have approved of, and encouraged, our efforts.

APHRA – The Facts: Aphra Behn was born near Canterbury , England, in 1640 and grew up during the Civil War.  At the age of 20 she visited an English sugar colony in Surinam, South America, where she is believed to have met the African slave leader whose story provided the outline for ‘Oroonoko’ - one of the most notable novels of the time and widely credited as the first book to describe the horrors and inhumanity of slavery.  On her return to England she was sent as a spy to Antwerp and there, naturally, devised her own version of a spying code.  On home territory again she was imprisoned briefly for debt before she turned to writing to support herself. 

APHRA – The Scandal : In her time, critics in Restoration England were scandalised by her lively wit and sexual candour and she was criticised both for her work and for her right to do it.  Notwithstanding the opposition she attracted, which came often though not exclusively from other women, she was one of the most popular novelists of the period and such an accomplished poet that there was serious talk of making her a female laureate.  Her pseudonym – which was amazingly the same as her espionage identity -  was Astrea Behn and it was under this name that she was buried in Westminster Abbey after her death, aged 49, in 1689. The inscription on her tomb reads, ‘Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be, Defense enough against Mortality.’

APHRA – The Writer: Aphra Behn has been described as someone who wrote for her bread, but who also cared deeply about her craft: its purpose and practice. She claimed her right to work and claimed the merit that her work deserved.  Like many busy people, she wrote quickly and, as many of her contemporaries were forced to do, often in a room full of people; like many of us, she did not have ‘a room of her own’.  If she was writing today, she would probably have retreated to a cafe with her laptop or notebook , been seen in a corner of the public library, or perched with a notebook on the edge of the kitchen table. 

CAFE APHRA – The Community: Surrounded by literary friends and patrons, Aphra Behn was fortunate to be grounded in a strong creative community and this forms the driving principle of Cafe Aphra. We believe that women writers can support each other if provided with a forum through which to do so. Aphra Behn was the first woman who showed the world that women can write, and do write, and will write - even in the face of substantial adversity.  No more Shakespeare’s sister -  Cafe Aphra aims to provide the space and the community to encourage, support, inspire and recognize women to write because...

The pictures of the pen shall outlast those of the pencil, and even worlds themselves.’.
 (Aphra Behn, Orinooko)

Comments

  1. Fascinating stuff, Yvonne, could you give us a list of some of her works please?

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    1. Happy to oblige. Poems: she was a prolific writer of poems. Some of her most famous include 'On Her Loving Two Equally', 'The Art of Making Love', @love Armed', 'The Willing Mistress', 'To The Fair Clarinda', 'The Dream', 'The Disappointment'. She produced several collections including 'Poems Upon Several Occasions With a Voyage To The Island Of Love'. She wrote 17 plays that I know of including 'The Rover', 'The Feigned Courtesans', 'The Luucky Chance', 'The Emperor of the Moon'. Novels include 'The Fair Jilt' 'Agnes de Castro', 'Love Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister' and 'Oroonoko'. Short stories 'The History of the Nun or the Fair Vow Breaker' and 'The Dumb Virgin'. She also produced librettos for operas and was known to work with composers like Purcell - who was also her friend. If you want to know more about her, I would recommend 'The Passionate Shepherdess - The Life of Aphra Behn' by Maureen Duffy. Despite having studied literature myself, I am ashamed to say that I first heard about her on a television programme. There are several collections of her work widely available on Amazon. You might be suprised how accessible an author she is, despite the 400 year difference between when she wrote and our reading expectations. She deserves to be more widely known. Germaine Greer wrote an interesting account of her. Thanks for your interest in Aphra.

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  2. Sounds like an amazing woman... I'm surprised that she's not more famous nowadays in the sense of being a household name like other women writers such as Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen. I studied English lit at university and I don't ever remember Aphra Behn being on the syllabus! Or maybe her stuff is too scandalous even for today's tastes? I can't believe that somehow... though I guess for her time she must have been like the Fifty Shades writer of her period (in terms of the sexiness and scandal value, not in terms of the quality of the writing of course)!!!

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    1. Definitely a different quality of writing than Fifty Shades - but much, much more shocking when you consider the values of the time and the behaviour that was expected of women. I too am surprised that she is not more famous or widely known. But, once you have heard about her and you start to research her you find that she is acknowledged within academic circles as a world classic writer. Germaine Greer wrote about her too but perhaps she needs a current Aphra PR person. Any takers?

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  3. Has anyone read anything by her? I'd be interested to hear your opinions...

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