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Aphra Behn

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Aphra Behn, known for her plays for the Restoration stage such as The Rover and for her novel Oroonoko.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ' All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds'. Behn may well have spent some of her early life in Surinam, the setting for her novel Oroonoko, and there are records of her working in the Netherlands as a spy for Charles II. She was loyal to the Stuart kings, and refused to write a poem on the coronation of William of Orange. She was regarded as an important writer in her lifetime and inspired others to write, but fell out of favour for two centuries after her death when her work was seen as too bawdy, the product of a disreputable age.

The image above is from the Yale Center for British Art and is titled 'Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, 1618-1680'


Janet Todd
Former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University

Ros Ballaster
Professor of 18th Century Literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxford


Claire Bowditch
Post-doctoral Research Associate in English and Drama at Loughborough University

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

43 minutes


Janet Todd

Ros Ballaster at the University of Oxford

Claire Bowditch at Loughborough University

Aphra Behn: Great Writers Inspire - University of Oxford

‘Aphra Behn: A Secret Life’ by Janet Todd – Historia, 2017

‘Aphra Behn: Still a Radical Example’ by Belinda Webb – The Guardian, 2017

Aphra Behn – Wikipedia



Kate Aughterson, Aphra Behn: The Comedies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

Ros Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction 1684-1740 (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1991)

Aphra Behn (ed. Joanna Lipking), Oroonoko (Norton and Co, 1997)

Aphra Behn (ed. Paul Salzman), Oroonoko and Other Writings (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Aphra Behn (ed. Jane Spencer), The Rover and Other Plays (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd), Oroonoko (Penguin Classics, 2003)

Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd), Oroonoko, the Rover and Other Works (Penguin Classics, 1999)

Aphra Behn (ed. Janet Todd), The Complete Works of Aphra Behn:7 vols. (Pickering and Chatto, 1992-6)

Claire Bowditch, The Works of Aphra Behn (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

W. J. Cameron, New Light on Aphra Behn (University of Auckland Press, 1961)

Maureen Duffy, The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn, 1640-89 (Jonathan Cape, 1977)

Derek Hughes, The Theatre of Aphra Behn (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)

Derek Hughes (ed.), Versions of Blackness: Oroonoko, Race and Slavery (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Jane Spencer, Aphra Behn’s Afterlife (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Janet Todd (ed.), Aphra Behn Studies (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Janet Todd, Aphra Behn: A Secret Life (Fentum Press, 2017)

Janet Todd and Derek Hughes (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

S. J. Wiseman, Aphra Behn (Northcote House, 1996)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Janet Todd
Interviewed Guest Ros Ballaster
Interviewed Guest Claire Bowditch
Producer Simon Tillotson


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