Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn

Let the battle begin…between the good and the bad…the righteous and the not-so-righteous of the eighteenth-century women’s writing.  I wanted to focus on these two women together, as I picture them the same way as I did Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Philips, being the ‘saintly’, perfect woman to whom all women should look up to.  Behn, the bad example; the woman women should turn their backs on, and not take anything she writes or says to heart.  For, in the eighteenth-century that was how they were viewed.

I can’t really say that I feel any differently than the eighteenth century readers would have felt about Philips.  From her biographies that I have read, she deserves all of the credit in the world.  She followed the ‘rules’ and did what was expected of women writers during that time.  She wrote under the pen name Orinda, and was one of the first accepted woman writers of the eighteenth century.  After her fathers death, her mother re-married and her step-father arranged her marriage to James Philips, a man significantly older than she was, at 16 years old.

It is no wonder that she had such great love and affection for her girlfriends.  At sixteen years old, she was still barely a child herself.  To be forced into this life, which I realize was acceptable during that time, still must have been so horrible and horrifying to her.  What would they have had in common?   What could they possibly talk about? He was old enough to be her father.  Yuck.  But the love she shared with her close girlfriends was something that she treasured and knew to be real.  They understood each other, and there seemed to be a deep love and affection for one another as is shown through the many poems she wrote.

Duh duh duhhhhhhh….and now we move on to Aphra Behn.  As a woman studying English literature and the lives of women writers of the past, I find Behn fascinating as well.  She seems to be the true fighter in this  ‘literary battle.’  While it seems as though Philips had everything handed to her (to a certain extent – especially comparing her life story to that of Behn’s), Aphra Behn deserves all of the praise and recognition in the world. While there is  little known of her early life,  I think that it is fitting that she is mentioned in A Room of One’s Own, and that Virginia Woolf suggests  that: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she — shady and amorous as she was.— who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you to-night: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.” Even well over two hundred years after she graced this earth, Behn was still not receiving the complete recognition she deserved.  Why is it so scandalous that she is buried in Westminster Abbey?  She had to face the criticisms of her contemporaries, all the while trying to support herself financially through her works.  Just the fact that Woolf mentions Behn in this text, to me, justifies her position as an influential female writer…A Room of One’s Own seems to be a modern day bibliography of ‘who’s who’ in terms of successful and influential female writers.



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