Portrait of Aphra Behn

Portrait of Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn was the first English woman to earn her living by writing. She was born in 1640 and brought up in the West Indies but returned to England aged 18. She married a Dutch merchant, but after his death, she found herself in a debtors' prison and was forced to look for means to support herself. Her first employment was as a spy, but she was not paid and turned to writing. Her first play The Forced Marriage was a tragi-comedy and was produced at one of London's two main theatres, Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, with the famous Thomas Betterton playing the lead. She went on to write many more comedies in the Restoration style (full of bawdy jokes and immoral characters). These were considered perfectly acceptable if written by a man, but not from the pen of a woman. She also wrote a novel set in the West Indies called Oroonoko which was made into a play shortly after Behn's death in 1689.