Aphra Behn: A Secret Life

Written by Janet Todd
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

This revised and updated version of Janet Todd’s masterful biography of Aphra Behn shines a light on one of the most intriguing characters in the history of English literature. Using contemporary documents and Behn’s own writing, Todd examines the exciting and dangerous times in which Behn lived and wrote. Born during the events leading up to the English Civil War, Behn lived quite an adventurous life, becoming a Royalist spy in the Netherlands and South America; later, she used her poetic skills to serve the Stuart kings, Charles II and James II.

But even more startling is the fact that Behn is the first woman to earn her living entirely by her pen. Along with other Restoration writers, she found the world around her rich with material in which to examine both the mores of her time as well as more eternal questions.

This well-researched biography brings the excitement of the age to its pages. Filled with nuanced detail and told from a feminist perspective, this book should be on every shelf for those interested in the mid-to-late 1600s.