Who was the First Woman Novelist?
The first WOMAN NOVELIST in Britain was Mrs Aphra Behn whose first published works of fiction, The Unfortunate Bride, The Dumb Virgin, The Wandering Beauty and The Unhappy Mistake, appeared in 1687. Mrs Behn had already established a reputation as a brilliant dramatist, before turning to prose work in about 1683. In that year she is believed to have written her first novel, The Adventure of the Black Lady, but it was not published until 1697, eight years after her death. Forced by circumstance to earn her own living, Aphra Behn first took paid employment as a secret agent in Holland, her mission being to spy on certain known regicides and traitors to the Crown. This successfully accomplished, and having brought but small monetary reward, she turned instead to literature and became the first Englishwoman to support herself in this manner.
Her output was prodigious. Between 1670 and 1687 she wrote 19 plays, an average of over one a year, and during the briefer six-year period of her prose work (1683-88), produced 11 novels, 5 volumes of translations and a collection of fiction Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, besides a quantity of poetry. Gildon, in his Account of the Life of the Incomparable Mrs Behn (1697), said that `She always writ with the greatest ease in the world, and that in the midst of Company, and Discourse of other matters. I saw her myself write Oroonoko, and keep her own in Discoursing with several then present in the Room.’ Oroonoko was Mrs Behn’s most successful novel, based on a romantic episode in her own life when, as a young girl living in Surinam, she had encountered the Royal Slave of that name.