The family in the works of Aphra Behn

Al Thobaiti, Maryam (2020) The family in the works of Aphra Behn. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This dissertation explores the family in Aphra Behn’s work by the use of the feminist theory within the historical context and by placing Behn’s work in the Restoration theatre activity. Specifically, I argue that Behn manipulates and challenges early modern ideas of the family in her work. By using the feminist theory within the historical context, this thesis demonstrates that Behn exploits the contradictions between different types of primary sources—diaries and memoirs, on the one hand, and conduct books, on the other—and represents the contemporary family as both oppressing to women and vulnerable to change. By the use of the feminist theory within the historical context too, this thesis reveals that Behn brings early modern women’s challenge to patriarchal restrictions to the fore in her work. Placing Behn’s work in the Restoration theatre activity enables this study to show that Behn was influenced by the Restoration theatre changes and made use of the changes to serve her women’s empowerment purposes. Although there are many studies that discuss feminist issues in Behn’s writings, the bulk of these to date have not paid enough attention to her engagement with and challenge to familial relationships; their restrictions, conflicts and dynamics. This thesis is the first fulllength study that examines in depth the family theme in a significant number of Behn’s works. It explores the interaction of family members with issues of sexuality, as represented in Behn’s poems, ‘The Disappointment’ and ‘The Golden Age’, and in her plays, The Rover (1677) and The Feigned Courtesans (1679). It explores the interactions of family members with women’s choice of marriage and divorce, as represented in The Emperor of The Moon (1687), The Forced Marriage (1670) and The False Count (1681). Finally, it explores the interactions of family members with issues of money and traditional socioeconomic marriage, as represented in The Lucky Chance (1686), Sir Patient Fancy (1678) and The City Heiress (1682). In her work, Behn both criticises and challenges the traditional family. She defies the limitation of libertinism to men and imagines libertine women who acknowledge their desire and purse it, marrying their equals in libertinism. Behn challenges fathers’ control over daughters’ choice in marriage by validating women’s right to choose their husbands. Finally, Behn expands control of financial and economic activities to women, portraying mothers who are aware of the importance of money and help their children to advance financially, and depicting wives as merchants and traders who have financial skills. By exploring the representation of the family in Behn’s works, this thesis contributes to studies of the family in the seventeenth century. In particular, it enriches the field by focusing on women’s conceptions of the family. In addition, this research contributes to Behn studies by arguing that there is a shift in Behn’s gender discussion: while Behn was less daring in her resistance and attack to patriarchy in her earlier plays, she was more adventurous in representing women who consider wealthy widowhood and independency their goals in life in her later plays.

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