Women and Sexuality in Aphra Behn's Poems Essay

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Women and Sexuality in Aphra Behn's Poems

"All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of AphraBehn, . .

. for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." (Woolf 91)

Born in 1640, AphraBehn broke gender stereotypes when she undertook a thrilling

(if unrewarded) life as a spy for the Crown, but it was her scandalous career as

an author which truly achieved many firsts for women. She was the first woman to

supporthereself financially by solely relying on the profession of writing, and

many readers argue that Oroonoko--her passionate tale about the institution of

slavery--was the first English novel. She was certainly one of the first female

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Likewise pursued, in "The Disappointment," Behn's young

virginal maiden takes her sexual destiny into her own hands (literally), leaving

her would-be lover impotent, an outcast from what used to be his realm of power.

Thus in "The Willing Mistress" and "The Disappointment," Behn confers power to

women by creating an environment of sexual freedom in which female sexuality is

natural, strong, comfortable, and driven by pure desire.

In the Middle Ages, if a woman wanted to express herself in writing, she was

limited to expressions of religious faith, as were Julian of Norwich and Margery

Kempe. Any rapture described in the literature of this period was usually

reserved for Christ, prompted by the ecstatic realization of an eternal life. In

the 16th and 17th centuries, women writers were still largely limited in how

they were permitted to express themselves. While writing about love became more

socially acceptable, most examples still presented a romanticized perspective in

which passion was inextricably linked to emotional involvement. There are

glimpses of sexuality, such as when Anne Bradstreet in "A Letter to Her Husband,

Absent Upon Public Employment" refers to her children as "those fruits which

through [her husband's] heat I bore" and yearns for him to return and warm her

"chilled" limbs (Lines 14; 11). However, even this
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