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The Willing Mistress, by Aphra Behn

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Aphra Behn shattered walls for sexual freedom of women in literature in the seventeenth century. She was called the first professional woman writer in English. Many of her works all have strong female roles holding sexual power. In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she states, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” She was one of the first female authors to speak candidly about the sexual passion felt by women, which was deemed ill-suited in her time. Aphra Behn creates an atmosphere where the woman is liberated, and can exhibit their sexuality very passionately.

The title “The Willing Mistress” instantly suggests the action taken by the female protagonist. She has little or no sexual inhibitions, and is a full participant in the tryst. The title also alludes that the woman may be unmarried, or betrothed to another man. This poem describes how the female speaker becomes aroused by the excellent courtship of her lover; to such an extent that she is open to engage in a passion exchange. She explains this by saying, “Which made me willing to receive / That which I dare not name" (Lines 15-16). Behn allows the character to embrace her sexual passion which was forbidden by social standards. Further, she can be said to assume the position of a man, resulting in role-reversals. Albeit the position of sexual power is normally held by the man both in literature and in reality, she takes control of her sexual pleasure, and boldly assumes charge of her desires.

Aphra Behn uses imagery to give the reader a vivid depiction of the forbidden scene playing out betwee...

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...r scene, and then coyly asks, “Ah who can guess the rest?” (25). Aphra is very successful in allowing the reader to make a correct conjecture on the events that will follow.

“The Willing Mistress” is one of Ahpra Behn’s poems which display the thwarts the stereotypical traditional roles of women. A woman has the power to be sexually liberated to engage with her lover on an equal or greater level. She shows how women can control what happens sexually; they can be empowered. This vision was not readily accepted in the 17th century—especially my men, but Behn has open the doors for many women to express themselves without inhibitions. Women truly ought to be grateful to Aphra Behn.

Works Cited

Aphra,Behn.”The Willing Mistress”. Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays. Fifth ed. Judith A. Stanford. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. 597-98. Print.
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