Aphra Behn and "The Willing Mistress".

Aphra Behn, is often called the first professional woman writer in English. She lived from 1640 to 1689. "After John Dryden, she was the most prolific dramatist of the Restoration, but it is for her pioneering work in prose narrative that she achieved her place in literary history." ( The Aphra Behn web page) She was known to be an intriguing woman. She was a playwright but she also wrote poetry; she says it helped her express her masculine side. Behn and some other female writers' were "criticised for their reliance on scandalous material but they gained unprecedented fame for their productions of epistolary novellas and romantic narratives." (Northern anthology p.72) An epistolary novella contains letters of the writer.

Ladies in the 17th century "had to confront the misogynist images of the women still prevalent in their culture." (Northern anthology p.73) Woman were blamed for unnatural eroticism. Women writers were considered an anomaly, "dancing dogs", and they were kept out of political arenas. But writing was one of the only professions open to middle-class women in this period.

"The Willing Mistress" shows a switch between the male and female roles. In this poem the WILLING mistress was an " active participant in erotic scenes". (http://athena.english.vt.edu/~exlibris/essays00/devine.htm) The woman in this poem feels totally free to do whatever she wants and she feels free to feel this way. Here is the main sentence that proves that she was really willing to do all of this: " Which made me willing to receive [t]hat which I dare not name" (Lines 15-16). (Northern anthology p.111) This poem's theme is female sexual empowerment and the speaker, protagonist, in this story is talking to us in a confessional way. We feel really close to her.

We saw previously in this text that Behn writes poetry to express her masculine side. I think we have the proof here where she gives some "male" power to a female. This poem is taking the reader into a sexual situation where it feels good to be. This is a reason why I liked this poem; it made me feel good. The protagonist makes us feel her willingness.

Julie Houle






M. Gilbert, Sandra, Gubar, Susan, The Northern Anthology of Literature by Women, Norton Editions, New York, 1996, 2452 pages.