With the recent announcement that the women of Saudi Arabia will be given the right to drive, it got us thinking about other amazing firsts for women. Aphra Behn and Mary Wollstonecraft were women who broke new ground in both literary and social spheres.
Aphra Behn, Restoration playwright, poet of the erotic and bisexual, political propagandist, novelist and spy, was the first woman to earn a living as a professional writer. It was not until she was in her thirties that she published the first of the nineteen plays and other works which established her fame among her ‘good, sweet, honey-candied readers’. Many of her works were openly erotic, indeed as frank as anything by her friends Wycherley and Rochester. Some also offered an inside view of court and political intrigues, and Todd reveals the historical scandals and legal cases behind some of Behn’s most famous ‘fictions’.
A newly updated edition of Aphra Behn: A Secret Life, where biographer Janet Todd draws on documents she has rediscovered in the Dutch archives, and on Behn’s own writings, to tell a story of court, diplomatic and sexual intrigue, is available to pre-order here.
‘Fascinating scholarship. Todd conveys Behn’s vivacious character and the mores of the time’ New York Times
Another inspiring first is Mary Wollstonecraft, who was the first major feminist in England, and wrote the pioneering Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. Extraordinarily scandalous in conventional terms of the time – a close involvement with a woman, two male lovers, an illegitimate child and a habit of initiating amorous relationships – she wanted to reconcile integrity and sexual desire, the needs and duties of a woman, motherhood and intellectual life, fame and domesticity.
In Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life, Janet Todd highlights her intellectual and sexual dilemmas, her glamorous and tumultuous life and loves.
‘A major biography; of interest to everyone who cares about women as writers’ Times Higher Education Supplement
Aphra and Mary, the work you started is not yet done, but with this positive news from Saudi Arabia, the world feels a little more hopeful for all of us.