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The Secret Life of Aphra Behn Hardcover – 15 May 2006


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 453 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (15 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813524555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813524559
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,912,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful By sofia_azam@hotmail.com on 26 Feb 2002
Format: Hardcover
THE SECRET LIFE OF APHRA BEHN IS AN EXCELLENT BIOGRAPHY ON ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMAN IN HISTORY. THE BOOK GIVES A GREAT ACCOUNT OF BEHN'S LIFE, INCLUDING HER WEAKNESSES AND MANY OF HER STRENGTHS. JANET TODD WRITES IN A UNIQUE STYLE THAT ALLOWS THE READER TO REALLY EXPERIENCE WHAT THE WOMEN OF APHRA'S TIME EXPERIENCED. JANET TODD ALSO PUTS APHRA BEHN IN A VERY REALISTIC HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND ATTEMPTS TO REALLY BRING APHRA'S TRUE LIFE TO THE SURFACE, IN ORDER FOR THE READER TO REALLY OBSERVE AND ANALYSE THE WAY APHRA REALLY WAS. THIS BOOK HAS CHARISMA AND GIVES AN INTERESTING DETAILED ACCOUNT ON A WOMEN WHO BECAME THE FIRST WOMEN TO EARN HER LIVING BY WRITING NOVELS, PLATWRITES, AND INCREDIBLE POEMS. APHRA BEHN WAS THE FIRST TO SPEAK HER MIND AND WHAT AN INCREDIBLE MIND IT WAS. APHRA WAS ALSO THOUGHT TO BE A SECRET AGENT, SHE WAS EMPLOYED AS A ROYAL SPY TO HOLLAND AND PROBABLY SPIED IN SURINAM. JANET TODD DESCRIBES APHRA'S LIFE AS PARTIAL, APHRA'S LIFE HAS BEEN BURIED BY THOSE WHO THOUGHT HISTORY WAS DOMINATED BY MEN, IT IS UP TO WRITERS LIKE JANET TODD TO RECOVER THE HISTORY OF WOMEN, WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TOWARDS HISTORY EQUALLY AS MEN.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
One volume, two rare women 3 April 2000
By Ms. Randy B. Hecht - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Aphra Behn--poet, playwright, novelist, spy--was no ordinary woman of the Restoration. A commoner who mingled with the royals and shocked society with her bawdy language; at once a feminist, an abolitionist and a Tory; she's a figure of intrigue whose life remains largely unknown but commands our curiosity. Janet Todd's thorough, lively, and scholarly biography does her justice; her book carefully documents Behn's life without diminishing her mystique. If you care anything at all about verbal swordplay, clever storytelling, or listening to what women's voices have to say about our history, you must read Behn--and once you have, you'll be compelled to read Todd, as well.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
AN AMAZING BIOGRAPHY OF AN AMAZING WOMAN. I learned much reading this one. 22 July 2011
By D. Blankenship - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The author, Janet Todd, informs us in the introduction to this wonderful biography that if all of the facts; actually hard core facts, we know about the life of Aphra Behn were written down they could be recorded on about a page and a half of paper. How then did Ms. Todd come up with a 545 page tome covering the life of this elusive character? That is not an easy answer but can best be illustrated by examining just what this work being reviewed here is.

Aphra Behn is probably the first woman who actually earned her living via writing. Her literary career, which was indeed the "life" of this amazing woman, began and ended with the Restoration. We have reason to believe she was born around 1640 and died in 1689.

During different times and by different people Aphra has been described as a playwright, political propagandist, authority on love and sex, poet, fictionist, propagandist, spy, whore, smutty writer and other things not so nice. What ever she actually was, and I personally feel that all the above may indeed have some truth to them, she was quite likely one of the most brilliant women in the history of Western Civilization. As has been pointed out by Todd and a number of other biographers, Behn was a study in contradictions. She was a high Tory but disliked traditional power structures. She was an extremely powerful woman; an autonomous woman who depended on men's approval. She was most obviously a woman who desired men and women and one who became involved in very intense political activity, yet she craved and sought out privacy and ease. She was obviously a very sensual and sexual individual but to a certain extent was fettered by her sexuality and the times in which she lived. But above all, she was one heck of a brilliant writer!

After Behn's death her work was, in general, absolutely trashed by the literary, intellectual and political establishment, and all but forgotten by few but moldy academics. During the 1970s we find that she was "rediscovered," and now has become a viable part of any literary education and is receiving the admiration, respect and recognition she so richly deserves.

But still, how to write a biography; a intimate account of a life which was so rich, yet so little was recorded of? (We are not even sure where she was born, who her parents were, when she was born...and the list goes on). Well the answer to that is that fortunately Aphra Behn left a massive volume of work in the form of play, poems, political satire and essays. All has been preserved and all was simply waiting for someone with the talent of Janet Todd to put it all together. And thereby we have not only a wonderful biography (which admittedly is bases somewhat on conjecture, speculation, interpretation, educated conclusions and a knowledge of the era in which the material was written), but we receive an in depth and analytical dissection and interpretation of the work of a literary giant. We also are dished up a wonderful look at the social, political, artistic and thought process of those who lived before and just after the Restoration.

Actually, when you think about it, as to the amount of hard and verifiable information we have on Aphra, it is just about the same information...maybe just a bit more; maybe a bit less, than we have on William Shakespeare.

This biography, while I suppose can sort of be classified as a "popular" biography, is actually more academic than we traditionally see. The author does assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with the culture, politics and literary scene during those times. Fortunately the author has given us wonderful footnotes and an extensive bibliography. I must admit that I found myself reaching for my dictionary more than once while reading this one and/or doing very fast wiki searches.

Everyone has their own method of reading a work such as this. The fortunate reader will be the one who is most familiar with Behn's work...the more the better. I fell a bit short here and while I had read bits and pieces over the years, I was and certainly am not a Behn expert. I did though read more extensively before I began this biography and after I read Todd's work, went back and did a large amount of rereading. I found this to be extremely helpful and with Todd's help I feel I have gained much greater understanding.

Fortunately for us, most of Aphra Behn's work is now readily available, and what us even more fortunate is that much of it is absolutely free or at very little cost. Amazon has quite a large amount of her work that can be downloaded for free and there are numerous web sights where her work can be downloaded to any e-reader. Even printed copies can be picked up for next to nothing.

Women have a lot to thank for women like Aphra Behn who paved the way for so many to come. Actually, come to think of it, we all should have a lot of thanks for her, and while we are at it, should reserve some of that thanks for Janet Todd whose skill and knowledge allowed her to bring us the story of a most fascinating character from our past.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
even OK for a novice 15 Oct 2013
By Annie Oh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This was a period I really didn't know much about. Professor Todd clearly states that there is very little specific information that exists on Aphra Behn. At first the book seems a bit conjectural (given the paucity of facts), but the historical setting is described very well. Then as the book comes to textual analysis of Behn's works, it shines, making this period quite accessible. The interweaving of politics, art and life following from the texts is fascinating. I was appreciative that Professor Todd did not revel in the salacious tidbits put forward by previous biographers. Rather she gives plausible alternatives for various incidents leaving the reader to decide. This book has spurred me on to investigate more about the Restoration period.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Interesting topic in Women's history, written with detail and honesty 20 Feb 2014
By Ida's girl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Aphra Behn was, and still is a fascinating character. She lived in England in the 1600s and was a playwright, propagandist and poet, and perhaps a spy, Much of her life story is obscured by time, and varying interpretations. The author takes on the challenge of guiding the reader through the facts, guesses and mysteries that surround Behn's life and work. This is a detailed work, but also a fascinating work. The reader should be prepared to give some time to this book, as it all takes a good bit of sorting out.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
dull book 2 April 2014
By Norma Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Couldn't get into this book, found it dull and boring. I wouldn't recommend it to any other reader despite its description which made it sound interesting.
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