Queering Aphra Behn

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis queers the work of Aphra Behn through a queer stylistic re-reading and re-evaluation of a selection of Behn’s work. Building on the work of contemporary queer theorists, the thesis takes a diachronic historicist approach using queer stylistics, queer temporality, queer hauntology and incorporates an adaptation of Varnado’s work on tracing queer desire in Early Modern texts.

In this thesis, I will propose that the Restoration period was a ‘cycle of salience’ not just for lesbian legibility but more broadly queer and including what we would now call, transgender legibility. In Behn’s prose narrative The Lovers Watch (1686) Behn both queers time and reveals how the character of Iris re-fashions her lover to challenge notions of Libertine masculinity. A close reading of Behn’s poem The Golden Age (1679) exposes an alternative version of paradise where Behn proposes a non-binary space in opposition to hegemony and patriarchy. In Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684-1687), Behn problematizes dominant ideologies in respect of gender and sexuality to expose queer relationships and Silvia’s embodiment of transgenderism. Behn’s play The Rover (1677) has been acknowledged as a critique of libertinism, patriarchy and male violence. However, this thesis shows how the queer temporality of Carnival and the medium of farce, reveals an underlying homoeroticism and the suspension and destabilization of hegemony, patriarchy and heterosexuality. Through a close reading of The Emperor of The Moon (1687) Behn’s use of the carnivalesque, farce and the grotesque, together with her queer imaginings, offer queer desires, queer erotic energy and challenges to heteronormativity. In the final chapter I analyse Behn’s cross-dressed characters in a selection of five plays showing how Behn problematizes concepts of gender and reveals how Behn’s representation of cross-dressed characters raises the ghost of transgenderism.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorKate Aughterson (Supervisor) & Ailsa Grant Ferguson (Supervisor)

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