Aphra Behn was the first professional woman writer in English, and Canterbury’s Aphra Behn project aims to bring the writer to a whole new audience, raise her profile, establish her as an iconic and important historical figure, as well as a source of local pride.
The project is delivered by Loughborough University and Canterbury Christ Church University, and in partnership with local groups who are already working to raise awareness of Aphra’s work and her Canterbury connections, including the A is for Aphra campaign and the Aphra Behn Society of Canterbury.
The year of activities and events will include exhibitions, plays, walks and festivals for everyone to enjoy and discover more about Canterbury’s daughter.
Born in Harbledown, Canterbury in 1640, Aphra is one of the most significant women writers of any era. Her writing provided a path for other female authors and playwrights, and academics see her works as the beginning of feminism and the foundation for modern women writers.
But despite her unique, sharp, witty, and insightful writing she was dismissed by generations of male critics in the centuries that followed; considered too sexy, too outspoken and too scandalous for later audiences, her creative work slipped out of public view.
Speaking at the launch event, project lead and Behn expert at Loughborough University, Professor Elaine Hobby said: “Aphra Behn was fantastically successful in her own day, but for some reason, this simply doesn’t get her celebrated. This project, Canterbury’s Aphra Behn, is about getting people to recognise how very, very lucky this city is to have her a daughter.
“Anyone who studies English literature will study Behn, as she is seen as being such an important figure, and yet she’s dropped out of popular culture altogether. I doubt most people know there was a professional women writer in 1670s and 80s, but there was, and she was from Canterbury and we should be shouting about her.”
The celebratory events planned throughout the year will extend an understanding of Aphra’s work. All the events are underpinned by the extensive research and knowledge of the project team, and will include the first production in 350 years of Aphra’s play ‘The Amorous Prince’, an exhibition at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, and a festival that will attract people worldwide to Canterbury to celebrate the most extraordinary life of this inspirational woman.
Dr Astrid Stilma is a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University and Co-Investigator for the project. Dt Stilma’s research interests are in the religious and political conflicts of the early modern period and how they are represented in literature. She said: “Aphra’s work engages in really fascinating ways with the politics of the 1670s and 16780s. She has a very original voice. It’s very sharp, witty and at times irreverent, and she provides a specifically female perspective which is rare for the period. Her works are not very well known, so this project is a wonderful opportunity to bring them to the attention of the public.”
Guests at the launch event were able to view a maquette of a new statue of Aphra Behn, soon to be unveiled in the centre of Canterbury.
Find out more about Canterbury’s Aphra Behn project and the year of events.
Canterbury's Aphra Behn is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.