• poetryunheard

Aphra Behn - strong, independent and determined.

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Not only was Behn’s writing causing controversy due to her being a woman playwright, but her writing was very scandalous as well. She even wrote a poem about male impotence called ‘The Disappointment’ in which she talks about erectile dysfunction from the perspective of a lady. Unfortunately, being a women at the time made this topic of discussion scandalous, however had she been male the response would perhaps been very different and much more accepting.

Welcome to the second edition in our “Historically Unheard” Series!

We are super excited to share with you a poem by Aphra Behn, the bad girl of her generation and a role model for future Women.

Not only was she a writer of plays, poems and novels; it is also alleged that she was a ‘spy’ for Charles II, developing intimacy with Thomas Scot, the son of the enemy crown, gaining his trust and using him as a double agent. Unfortunately for Behn, Scot did not remain loyal and gave her up to the Dutch!

It turns out that Aphra Behn might not even be her real name, she went by several names in her political spy career such as ‘Ann Behn’, ‘agent 160’ and even ‘Mrs. Bean’. For modern day readers perhaps not the choice we would make for an alliance given the connotation to the classic Mr. Bean played by Rowan Atkinson!

Not only was Behn’s writing causing controversy due to her being a woman playwrite, but her writing was very scandalous as well. She even wrote a poem about male impotence called ‘The Disappointment’ in which she talks about erectile dysfunction from the perspective of a lady. Unfortunately, being a women at the time made this topic of discussion scandalous, however had she been male the response would perhaps been very different and much more accepting.

Throughout her career, people went to great lengths to tear her down, the debut of her 1673 play, “The Dutch Lover” was sabotaged by critics, this did not stop her and she stated that it was only miseducation that held women back from their full potential, not any innate inferiority.

Speaking of talented and incredible women, we had the absolute pleasure of collaborating with Liz Adams (@lizthebeetle) on this project and she has created the incredible portrait of Aphra Behn to accompany this release.

She has shared with us a bit about her findings and her process through creating this work, and we are so grateful to be able to share this with you:

Artwork by Liz Adams

The experience of painting a person based solely off of previous paintings and drawings of her was completely new to me. I am used to working from life or from photos. I had never heard of Aphra Behn, so my initial google search led me on many rabbit trails of her colorful and unusual life. I wanted to add that energy to my composition. I used all the images I could find online and constructed my own version of her likeness. I painted her in a 17th century style but added a theatrical element. I enjoyed the contrast of classical portraiture in a modern and unexpected setting.

My use of hot pink is quite common in my work, it is a bold color that is both feminine and wild. Making this setting of a pink background really changed the tone and mood of previous portraits of her. I created a dramatic take on a classical setting with the marble arch and statues. In her poetry and plays she explored themes of love, loss and morality. “Astrea” written in the upper left hand corner was her chosen pen name. It is the Greek word for “star” and in Greek mythology she was the goddess of truth and justice.

Aphra was a sensual, rebellious and adventurous woman who was independent and self supporting at a time that it was highly unusual for women to live that way. My painting is a tribute to her from a modern perspective, celebrating some of the things that she was criticized for in her complicated life. Painting this portrait was a way for me to offer homage to Aphra Behn, who did her part to pave the way for us female artists.”

-Liz Adams

Everything here that we have discovered about Behn is hard to prove as she was around such a long time ago, and documents get changed and exaggerated! You’ve got to admit, she does sound pretty cool!

Be more Aphra, stand up for what you want to do, don’t let others stand in your way and when they push you down, push back up even harder!

Check out the video below!


Read by Ben Walker, Andrew Simmons, Rose Evlin, Ryan Eales, Manisha Kersey and Joe Corrigan

Video by Nick Laws and Leonora Nicholson

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