"reading one of Mrs. Behn's novels"
Aphra Behn
Public DomainAphra Behn - Credit: George Scharf (1820—1895)

Aphra Behn (c. 1640 - 1689) was a dramatist of the English Restoration period and one of the first professional female writers in England.  In 1663 she visited an English sugar colony on the Suriname River, on the coast east of Venezuela, and apparently met an African slave leader whose story formed the basis for one of her most famous works, Oroonoko.  The book has been widely credited as the first to highlight the horrors of slavery to readers in England.  The extent to which the book reflects historical fact is dubious, but Behn’s trip to the country does appear to have taken place. 

In 1666 Behn was recruited as a spy by Charles II, working in Holland during the period of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.  Charles was however very slow to pay for her services or her expenses.  She had to borrow money to return to London, and soon ended up in debtor’s prison.  On her release in 1669, she turned to writing to earn her living, and produced many plays and novels, poems and pamphlets. Her most popular works included The Rover, Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, and Oroonoko. 

Author Virginia Woolf wrote that "All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."