Aphra strikes me as being quite a formidable character. To have achieved what she did in her short lifetime and at that era in history is remarkable. I wanted to portray this resilience in the pose, which is why I chose to have her standing in a slightly confrontational stance with her hand on her hip, holding two Carnival masks as a reference to her play The Rover and to the many characters she herself portrayed in her own lifetime, obscuring her own personal history (including that linking her with Canterbury) from the historical record. The other hand reveals her writing in the folds of her dress. As a nod to her roots in Canterbury, there are Campanula flowers (Canterbury Bells) on her shoes and on her bodice. The quotation at the base of the statue is from Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and says ‘All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.
The Untamed Heart
To capture Aphra Behn’s mystery, complexity, and wit, I sculpted her standing boldly and gracefully, holding a mask away from her face and catching up part of her skirt with her other hand, in which she clasps a quill pen. Her layered clothing and masks reveal different aspects of her identity. Two elements refer to her gender fluidity: a snake beneath flowers (a symbol she used), and her leg is revealed to be wearing male clothing.
Aphra Behn was famous for being able to write anywhere, so I’ve sculpted her having made notes on her skirt, which will introduce viewers to her poems and plays. Because she was the writer, the words are intentionally chosen to face her.
Around her are tumbled masks of some of her characters, from The Widow Ranter, Oronooko and other plays, including those such as The Rover which famously feature masquerade as pivotal plot points. The mask she holds is a version of her face, expressing some of the privation and grief she knew in life, but her own face looks amused and delighted to be alive, observing us all.
Aphra Behn: Mind Over Matter
So often, women have had more representation for their beauty and looks while being ignored for their achievements. This proposal seeks to redress this by drawing attention to substance rather than style.
The figure of Aphra Behn is essentially gestural and amorphous, still recognisable as female, but deliberately devoid of any particular fashion or historical, reference. As well as adding to the mystery of her life story, the viewer is encouraged to consider the significance of this, perhaps investigating further.
On the other hand, clearly evident, are the books, the literature, the work she has accomplished and for which she earned her reputation which is now confirmed in this memorial, establishing her as a timeless icon.
Aphra Behn: Playwright, Poet, Pioneer
The young Aphra Behn strides out, showing confidence, humour and intrigue, as Canterbury would have remembered her. She left Canterbury when she was around sixteen years old. This is a realistic figure, based on the only known authentic portrait of her, that was contained within the collection of poetry published in her lifetime. I hope that Canterbury residents and visitors of all ages will relate to her, recognise her achievements and – seeing the statue – be eager to learn more about her.
Around her figure can be seen clues to the many facets of her life, including an ink bottle and quill hanging from her waist, indicating her readiness to write at any time. Her purse is embroidered with lines from her poem ‘To the Fair Clorinda’. In her right hand she holds a copy of her most famous novella, Oroonoko, which may later emboldened the abolitionist movement. Behind her back she carries a carved theatre mask representing her important contribution as a playwright and secreted up her sleeve is a scroll, suggestive of her activity as a spy to Charles II. The open scroll against her skirt contains the words of Virginia Woolf, firmly stating modern female writers’ debt to Aphra.