Skip to main content

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life by Janet Todd: A Book Review

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life
Author: Janet Todd
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Bloomsbury Reader
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 544
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: '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,' said Virginia Woolf. Yet that tomb, in Westminster Abbey, records one of the few uncontested facts about this Restoration playwright, poet of the erotic and bisexual, political propagandist, novelist and spy: the date of her death, 16 April 1689. For the rest secrecy and duplicity are almost the key to her life. She loved codes, making and breaking them; writing her life becomes a decoding of a passionate but playful woman.

     In this revised biography, Janet Todd draws on documents she has rediscovered in the Dutch archives, and on Behn's own writings, to tell a story of court, diplomatic and sexual intrigue, and of the rise from humble origins of the first woman to earn her living as a professional writer.

     Aphra Behn's first notable employment was as a royal spy in Holland; she had probably also spied in Surinam. It was not until she was in her thirties that she published the first of the nineteen plays and other works which established her fame (though not riches) among her 'good, sweet, honey-candied readers'. Many of her works were openly erotic, indeed as frank as anything by her friends Wycherley and Rochester. Some also offered an inside view of court and political intrigues, and Todd reveals the historical scandals and legal cases behind some of Behn's most famous 'fictions'.

     My Review: Aphra Behn was an English playwright, novelist, and poet. She is known in history as the first woman to ever make her living as a professional writer. However, we know very little of the woman who shocked all of England with her scandalous plays. Mrs. Todd attempts to create a portrait of this controversial woman by showing her as a spy and a feminist. She proves that Aphra Behn is a woman worth remembering.

   Before I read this revised biography of Aphra Behn, I did not know much about her. The only thing I knew of her was that she wrote Oroonoko. Therefore, I was intrigued to read more about this little known figure. Because there are very few known facts about Aphra Behn’s life, there is much speculation about Aphra in A Secret Life. Mrs.Todd puts together the pieces of her cryptic life. Aphra Behn is shown to be the daughter of a barber. Her mother is the nanny for a noble family. Aphra grew up alongside the children of nobles and was given an education. Her connection to nobility allowed her to become an English spy in Surinam and Holland. Mrs. Todd relies on Aphra Behn’s own writings to prove her evidence as a spy. 

   Mrs. Todd also uses Aphra Behn’s writings to delve deep into Aphra’s personal life and beliefs. She tackles the subject on the many loves in Aphra’s life and whether she was married. Her life as a widow was what turned her to writing. Mrs. Todd also believed that Jack Hoyle was Aphra’s greatest love and muse. Mrs. Todd also portrays her as a champion for women’s rights. She believed that women should recieve an education. She was also an abolitionist. Thus, Mrs. Todd shows Aphra to be a woman ahead of her time.

     Overall, this biography is the closest we can ever come to knowing Aphra Behn. Her life was often in the shadows, and Mrs. Todd attempts to bring her out of the shadows. While there is little evidence to her speculations, Mrs. Todd does make a strong case. While we may never know who she truly was, it is clear that Aphra was a fascinating woman. Aphra deserves to be remembered for her accomplishments, and Mrs. Todd’s biography proves why Aphra continues to be studied in colleges.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki: A Book Review

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post Author: Allison Pataki Genre: Historical Fiction Publisher: Ballantine Release Date: February 15, 2022 Pages: 381 Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: Mrs. Post, the President and First Lady are here to see you. . . . So begins another average evening for Marjorie Merriweather Post. Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got. From crawling through Moscow warehouses to rescue the Tsar’s treasures to outrunning the Nazis in London, from serving the homeless of the Great Depression to entertaining Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Hollywood’s biggest stars, Marjorie Merriweath

Tituba: The Intentional Witch of Salem by Dave Tamanini: A Book Review

Tituba: The Intentional Witch of Salem Author: Dave Tamanini Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy Publisher: David F Tamanini Release Date: 2020 Pages: 317 Source: Publisher/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: If you love historical fiction... come revisit Salem's terror in this provocative new telling of enslaved Tituba, no longer a caricature, but a fully human woman with magical powers.      Come! Let Tituba cast its spell with a unique and tantalizing tale that explores the wild emotions driving accusations of witchcraft in 1692.      A Promise and a Hope      Enslaved Tituba has been faithful to a promise to her dying mama in Africa. She has appeased the masters from Barbados to Boston to Salem and waited for her magic.      A Mother’s Agony      When Tituba’s only son dies trying to escape slavery, her life changes forever. After enduring the crush only a mother can feel, she rages and turns to vengeance.      Witches Tear into Salem      The villagers see wi

Interview with Tessa Afshar

     It was my honor to do an interview with Tessa Afshar! Ms. Afshar is one of the top-selling Christian fiction authors in the genre. Her books have won numerous awards in the field and her books show the love she has for the roots of Christianity. I asked Ms. Afshar about her latest work, Daughter of Rome . The novel focuses on Priscilla and Aquila, who had once brought Paul into their home  for 18 months. I appreciate Ms. Afshar taking the time for my interview, and I hope you enjoy looking into the latest work by Tessa Afshar, Daughter of Rome ! What attracted you to the story of Aquila and Priscilla? Although we know little about this extraordinary couple, what we do know is spellbinding: they saved Paul’s life, set up house churches in different cities in the Roman Empire, shared the gospel with many Gentiles, and became influential spiritual leaders through some of the most harrowing years of the church’s history. Their marriage must have been remarkable! Ther