Aphra Behn (née Johnson)(1640-1689), Dramatist, novelist and spy
Sitter associated with 4 portraits
Details of Aphra Behn's early life are uncertain. She seems to have journeyed to South America in 1663-4 with her family. In 1688 she published her anti-slavery novel Oronooko, about a black chieftain captured as a slave. She claimed she was 'an eyewitness' to his story. It is remarkable not only because of her gender but also because slavery was then so unthinkingly accepted. On her return to England she was briefly married to Mr Behn, and from 1667 she went to Antwerp as a spy for Charles II. The King failed to pay her and she was imprisoned for debt. Turning to writing to support herself, she was the most successful female writer of the age, producing a string of plays, as well as novels.