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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 Oroonoko, 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.

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Aphra Behn, by Robert White, after  John Riley - NPG D30183

Aphra Behn

by Robert White, after John Riley
line engraving, published 1716
NPG D30183

Aphra Behn, by Robert White, after  John Riley - NPG D9483

Aphra Behn

by Robert White, after John Riley
line engraving, published 1716
NPG D9483

Aphra Behn, by B. Cole, after  John Riley - NPG D30188

Aphra Behn

by B. Cole, after John Riley
line engraving, mid 18th century
NPG D30188

Aphra Behn, by James Fittler, after  Thomas Uwins - NPG D6859

Aphra Behn

by James Fittler, after Thomas Uwins
line engraving, published 1822
NPG D6859


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