Essay about Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn

Essay about Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn

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With the restoration of Charles II to the throne following the fall of the Commonwealth and Puritanism came a surge of sexual and artistic freedom in England. This new libertine ideology brought with it not only the reemergence of the theatre, but and a society that embraced freedom of sexuality and thought in a way that was unprecedented. It is this new libertine society that provided a context for the writings of Aphra Behn. While Behn observed men like rakish Charles II and the effeminate Earl of Rochester enjoying England’s newfound open mindedness, she was forced to navigate, or rather circumnavigate, the limitations that remained in place for women. In a time when actresses were first appearing on stage and Charles II’s mistresses were regarded practically as pop culture icons, women were finally breaking out of the private sphere and being thrust into the public eye.1 While women, and even their sexualities were at last being celebrated outside of the domestic sphere, it was far from on their own terms, and entirely relative to the roles they filled for men. While the society so often characterized by the court of Charles II was on the whole highly performative, women were expected to perform in a much more specific way than their male counterparts. On and off stage women were expected to conform to a limited selection of character types that started with wife and ended with whore, and the spectrum between was narrow if not nonexistent.
Behn is remarkable because as a spy for the British crown and the first woman to make a living as a writer, she circumnavigated her gender and claimed an identity previously only thought possible for a man. In her 1677 play The Rover, Behn laments that her female characters are trapped w...


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... Behn Studies. Ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 15–29.

Pearson, Jaqueline. "Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn." The Review of English Studies. no. 165 (1991).

Pecheco, Anita. "Rape and the Female Subject in Aphra Behn's "The Rover"." ELH. no. 2 (1998): 323-345.

Todd, Janet. Oroonoko, the Rover and Other Works. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Todd, Janet. Aphra Behn Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Todd, Janet. The Secret Life of Aphra Behn. London, UK: Rutgers University Press, 1996: Introduction.

Todd, Janet. Oxford Dictionary of Natural Biography, ed., s.v. "Behn, Aphra (1640?– 1689)." Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Webster, Jeremy. Performing Libertinism in Charles II's Court: Politics, Drama, Sexuality. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.


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