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Sunday, April 02, 2017

B Is For Aphra Behn: A-Z Challenge 2017

Imagine if J. K Rowling had gone into the spy game. Or Stephen King, perhaps. There were quite a few bestselling spies in history, including Daniel Defoe, Christopher Marlowe and Ian Fleming(sort of. He was in charge of other spies, including one who might have inspired James Bond, of which more in a later post).

Aphra Behn, a 17th century Englishwoman, was a novelist, poet and prolific playwright. You are more likely to have heard of the playwright Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote about three plays. She wrote over 100, some of them still being performed today, pastoral poetry and Ooronoko, a novel about a slave uprising.

But her adventures as a spy began in 1666, when England was at war with the Netherlands. She was sent to Antwerp by King Charles II. Her code name was Astrea. She was meant to communicate with a William Scot, who had valuable information and was living in the Netherlands, and persuade him to become a double agent for England. He had, among other things, killed a couple of British agents, so she was to offer him a pardon. 

He agreed and gave her the information that the Dutch were planning a raid up the River Thames. At great risk to herself, she smuggled the information back home ... and was ignored. The raid happened.

Things went wrong during this trip. Scot may have betrayed her. But what really went wrong was the money. King Charles wasn't very good at paying. She was stuck in Holland till 1667. She had to pawn her jewellery and somehow scrape together the money to get home where, if she was ever paid, we don't know about it. To add insult to injury, a warrant was issued for her arrest for debt! 

In fact, it was because she was broke that she started writing plays, to raise money - and became a huge success, one of the first women in England to make a living from her writing. 

She must have concluded that spying was a mug's game. 

Tomorrow: C is for the CIA and Castro.


Heather Erickson said...

It's interesting to think about writers as spies. I'm sure you heard about the recent revelation of Hemmingway as a failed KGB spy. When my kids were younger, my husband and I used to joke that we were going on a secret spy mission whenever we left the house together for a date. After watching an episode of The Americans on Amazon, I don't really want to be thought of as a spy anymore. :) Your blog is great and the theme you've chosen is a lot of fun!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Heather, glad you like it! No, I hadn't heard that about Hemingway, must look it up. When you think about it, someone who sits around writing in public, once you know who they are, would be left alone to get on with it. Keep reading -I will be writing about Aussie spy Herbert Dyce Murphy, who actually painted potential enemy equipment and got away with it because... Well, keep reading. I'm choosing the more over-the-top stories from my book.