Alpha Behn Biography and Works Research Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 7th, 2019

Alpha Behn is one of the first English Professionals female writers. Others famed writers include Eliza Haywood and Delavierier Manley among others. Behn was born in England in sixteen forty to Bartholomew Johnson and Elizabeth Denham. His parents lived in Canterbury.

The father was a barber while her mother worked as a family nurse to the Colepeper family. Behn grew to become a creative and intellectual writer of poems, plays, and novels among other works (Todd 8). This was during the English revolution before her death in sixteen eighty-nine when she was forty-eight years of age. Her authorship was professional because it earned her a living. This paper seeks to unravel and explore her life, work achievements, difficult moments, and her demise.

Following the information given by Thomas Colepeper, the youngest son of the Colepeper family, who referred to Behn as a foster sister, it is very possible that she grew up in this family. The Colepeper’s were well to do.

Alpha Behn while in her mid twenties, is said to gone on a journey to Venezuela that was later renamed Suriname. This journey introduced her to her writing profession later in life. As much the details indicating the reason why she traveled are not documented, the fact that the journey did take place has been documented (Hobby 79).

This journey at the same time through her early works gave awareness and enlightened the British people of the sufferings that the slaves went through in the hands of their masters. This trip led Behn to an encounter with an African man who happened to be a slave leader. The experience was the story behind her famous book, Oroonoko, a story of a royal slave and his tragic love, published in sixteen eighty-eight in London.

The African man was a slave leader who turned out to become the leader of the slaves’ rebellion against the slave masters in Suriname along the Suriname River. The ending was so bloody because the masters administered brutal, unsophisticated, unrestrained, and least to say uncouth punishment to him.

There is particular evidence from the articles documented by other scholars alongside her own writings, which lead to the conclusion that Alpha Behn was a Catholic. One of her plays, The Rover II, that she wrote in two parts, part one coming out in sixteen seventy seven and part two that was published in seventeen eighty one were dedicated to the exiled Catholic Duke of York.

Behn’s relations with Catholics, especially Henry Neville who was detained, did create restlessness among the opponents of Catholic. This occurred in the late seventeen century and summarily she was quoted to have harbored the ambitions of becoming a Catholic nun in her teenage age.

This would point to the fact that she was a Catholic, had close association with Catholics, or empathized with them during the anti-catholic ardency. Behn was known to be a staunch defender of what she believed in. Whether it was her stand on political ideologies to duties assigned to her, she executed them with passion. Following on her association with matters that related to Catholic, we can decisively conclude that she was a Catholic.

Alpha Behn was also very political. On many occasions, she put to use her profession to make her loyalty to the Tories be known. She wrote pamphlets, articles and plays to express her dislike for the parliament, which she accused of tying down the hands of King Charles II by refusing to apportion funds as, asked for expenditure.

The parliament Whigs had risen from the Great Revolution of sixteen eighty-eight to become the citizens guards. They went on to demand Constitutional monarchism that Behn opposed. It was sad that in the year of revolution itself, Behn was ill. It is suspected that following her own description of her condition, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Behn had described her hands as being distortured.

Behn believed in the King ruling with divine right and power. She vehemently opposed revolution and wrote articles that maligned its proponents while at the same agitating for a restored monarchy. Behn’s allegiance to the Royalty is said to have started in sixteen sixty-six, when through the brokerage of the Colepeper’s connections she was employed to the Court as a political espionage to Antwerp, Netherlands by King Charles II.

This job came barely two years since her return to England, where her marriage of less than two years to Johan Behn had been cut short following the demise of her husband. In her role as a spy, Behn played a pivotal role during the second Anglo-Dutch war of sixteen sixty-five fought between England and Netherlands.

Operating under the secrete code of Astrea, her main responsibility was to develop a close working relationship with William Scott another emissary whose father had been executed in sixteen sixty, and now had offered his services to the King. Besides this duty, Behn was charged with the responsibility of investigating and submitting intelligence reports about the British citizens who were in exile and any conspiracy they had against the King.

This job was demanding however, Behn was never paid. The King did not show the urgency to settle her dues. Behn had to survive on borrowing in order to even travel back home. She tried in vain for a whole year to petition the King for her payment. When it all failed, she landed in the debtors’ jail for failing to settle her debts. The one-year long plea had not born any fruits.

It is documented that she was released from jail in the year sixteen sixty-nine after people or someone who is not mentioned settled her debts. This person may have been one of her sympathizers or least to say a Good Samaritan. It surprising that she did not mentioned the person in any of her many plays, poems, or books she authored (Derek 19).

Alpha Behn had learnt her lessons the hard way. This however, did not change her loyalty to the monarchy leadership. After she left prison, it was time for Behn to take a new dimension in life, she turned to professional writing. In sixteen seventy, Behn began writing for payment a year after her release from prison.

She took of by establishing cordial relations with the then playwrights. They gave insights into the new field she wanted to venture. The same year her first play, Forced Marriage, was performed. The play was a hit and become a financial success, perhaps the best encouragement for a beginner. The Duke’s company performed the play

Behn’s writings cut across the literature genre. She wrote plays, novels, poems, and pamphlets among others. Some of her famous works included Oroonoko, published a year before she passed on, The Rover II, a play she dedicated to the exiled Catholic Duke of York. It became her most successful play that is appreciated to date.

Its popularity attracted among others the King’s mistress, Nell Gwyn, who acted the role of Angelica Bianca, performing as a prostitute. James II, The Duke of York is said to have had a strong liking for the same. The Dutch lover, Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister were some of her plays alongside The Lover’s Watch or The Art of Making Love; this was a poem and the History of the nun, or the Fair Vow-Breaker among many more.

The Feigned Courtesans was dedicated to Nell Gwyn for her role in the Rover II..Most of Behn’s work were translated into many other international languages most notably French. Such works include Oroonoko, and A Discovery of New Worlds both of them were novels.

Alpha Behn’s professional road was not as rosy as it may appear. She was accused of lacking moral restraints. Alexander Pope for example for instance wondered why a playwright would justly put all characters in her work to bed. Her accusers capitalized on her relationship with Earl of Rochester, who infamous for his promiscuity.

Having realized success in a male dominated industry, Behn suffered from the then stereotype that all female actors were whores. Robert Gould in sixteen eighty-three asserts women in the acting industry were definitely members of the oldest profession in the world (Colimore 56)

Her play Like Father like Son never made it even to the printing room. Behn turned to the other genres of literature after the rise United Company, that was a merger of her production company Duke’s and the Kings Company. The income from plays had dipped. We can conclude that Alpha Behn had a successful writing career, which fought through a hard male dominated industry and never despaired. Though mortal too, she was really the mother of professional female playwrights.

Works Cited

Colimore, Jeff. Reconstructing Alpha: A social biography of Alpha Behn. New York: Palgrave, 1980. Print.

Derek, Hughes. The Theatre of Alpha Behn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2001. Print.

Hobby, Elaine. Virtue of necessity: An English woman’s writing 1649-88. Michigan: University of Michigan, 1989. Print.

Todd, Janet. The Critical Fortunes of Alpha Behn by 1998. Washington: Colombia Camden House. Print.




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