Aphra Behn: A Secret Life

Aphra Behn was a 17th-century playwright, poet, translator, propagandist and spy, and one of the first English women to successfully 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. --Sara Catterall

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