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Aphra Behn: A Secret Life Paperback – 1 Jun 2017
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Shelf Awareness (07/21/2017): Aphra Behn was a 17th-century playwright, poet, translator, propagandist and spy, and one of the first English women successfully to support herself as a professional writer. She was an iconoclast who expressed many radical political, religious and sexual ideas through her work. Aphra Behn: A Secret Life is a revised and updated reissue of the 1996 biography by Janet Todd (A Man of Genius), the British scholar, biographer and novelist. Behn is a tricky subject for any biographer. Very little was written about her by anyone who knew her. As a professional artist, she intentionally invented and hid behind her public image. Todd calls her "a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess... not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks and intrigue." In addition, despite her many radical convictions, she was a strongly anti-democratic Royalist, and her ideas did not line up neatly with modern definitions of social liberalism or feminism. However, Todd thoroughly understands the particular cultural and political environment of the Restoration. She traces a convincing and entertaining path through the likely events of Behn's life in the vivid context of her times, examining the evidence and alternatives for every possibility and providing close readings of her works. Her approach creates an effective mixture of historical research, literary criticism and fiction that brings us as close as we may ever get to the truth of this enterprising and enigmatic literary figure. COPYRIGHT(2017) Shelf Awareness, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
About the Author
Janet Todd was born in Wales and grew up in Britain, Bermuda and Sri Lanka. She has worked in Ghana, Puerto Rico, India, Scotland and England. In the US, at the University of Florida and Douglass College, Rutgers, she began the first journal devoted to women s writing. She has published on the novel and memoir and written biographies of Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughters Fanny and Mary Shelley, and the Irish Lady Mount Cashell. A Professor Emerita at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Janet Todd is a former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, where she established the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. She has published two novels: Lady Susan Plays the Game and A Man of Genius. She lives in Cambridge and Venice."
Top customer reviews
Todd had done a masterful job of mining the sources that we have and has been rummaging around the archives to offer the fullest portrait to date of Behn as both woman and writer. Attentive to her various liaisons, and studiously refusing to romanticize her femininity, this embraces the complexities of Behn: while refusing to be confined to a conventional female role, she believed in hereditary monarchy, the divine right of kings, and had little time for ideas of democracy or a parliamentary constitution.
Todd inevitably draws on Behn's writings but not in any simple linear fashion. Instead she draws out Behn's concerns with sexual and gender politics, and the way she uses humour and satire to articulate her agenda without compromising her essential need to entertain not least because, unlike Rochester, for example, she had neither money nor social status outside of her profession as author.
So a complicated woman - and a scholarly biography which does her justice.
She (Woolf) then examines the lives of some successful writers such Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and Rebecca West. All these people did have the means to survive and just as important the encouragement to write. Aphra Behn was exceptional in that she had to fight for her success and recognition in writing plays and having them staged. She was friendly with Nell Gwynn and was prepared to go to the same lengths as Nell herself, to lift herself out of the gutter. Need we say more! She was no socialist. She believed it was every man/woman for him/her self. While she believed in equal pay for equal work, I doubt whether she would have joined a feminist movement. She was a reactionary in the sense that she thought that the King (Charles 2nd) had a divine right to rule.
I said at the beginning that this author's book is a lengthy work of scholarship, so that after the introduction, I took the easy way out and looked for a summary in Wikipedia. So if you want to find just the essential facts of her life I suggest you do the same! However I may well return to Janet's work later.
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