Aphra Behn''s comic heroines



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Aphra Behn, the seventeenth-century English playwright recognized as the first woman to support herself by her pen, was significant both in her time and today. This study, therefore, will discuss her comic heroines, Hellena in The Rover; or The Banish'd Cavalier Part I (1677), Chariot in The City Heiress; or Sir Timothy Treat-all (1682), and Julia in The Lucky Chance; or An Alderman's Bargain (1687), as they resemble or depart from both Behn's own life and the modern prototypes of the witty Restoration heroine: Harriet in Sir George Etherege's The Man of Mode; or Sir Fopling Flutter (1676) and Millamant in William Congreve's The Wav of the World (1700). Hellena, considered to be Behn's wittiest heroine,suggests Behn's drive for independence and adventure. In Hellena's participation in the intrigues of the play and in her control over the hero, Willmore, she surpasses Harriet and anticipates Millamant in sensitivity. Chariot a modifiction of Hellena, resembles Behn's insecurity with men; as a reflection of Behn's own romantic problems with her lover, John Hoyle, Chariot lacks the self-control and wit to dominate the hero, Tom Wilding. Julia portrays Behn's interest in intrigue; just as Behn became involved with the various intrigues in Surinam and espionage in Antwerp, Julia devises an elaborate scheme to test Gayman, her would be lover's affections. All three heroines depart from Harriet in that they reveal a greater range of emotions. Thus their sensibility anticipates Millamant, who breaks from the rigid and one-sided mold of the witty Restoration heroine. Hellena, Chariot, and Julia differ from Behn in their individual goals and expectations, but suggest her own diverse personality in their characterizations. Behn, therefore, created unique heroines in that they not only resemble Behn, but also give life to the Restoration prototypes.