EL6053 - Writing Women: Aphra Behn in Focus

What will I learn on this module?

This module explores the writings of the first professional woman writer in England, Aphra Behn (d. 1689). Biographically, Behn remains something of an enigma. We know little about her personal life, and some of our earliest records of her relate to her work as a Continental spy for Charles II. Yet Behn is one of the most important writers of the late seventeenth century. She contributed to many genres of literature (poetry, drama, translation and prose), she was the second most prolific dramatist of her age, and she authored the first English novel. Behn was a transformative and innovative author, deeply engaged with questions of gender and self-aware, in her writings, of her status as a female author in a male profession.
On this module we will read a selection of Behn’s writings, exploring their relationship to her contemporary writers, Behn’s historical moment and the broader development of literature. We will also explore the complex reception history of Behn’s work, thinking about why she disappeared from the literary canon within decades of her death, only to be rediscovered by feminist and postcolonial scholars from the 1970s and 80s. In studying Behn’s changing status as a literary author, and by reading her work, students will learn about a key moment (the 1670s-80s) in the development of the literary marketplace, whilst developing an appreciation of the ways in which gender concerns have affected access to Behn’s literature, as well as shaped (and, at times, limited) our understanding of its wider importance.
Today, Behn is much-studied and there are numerous scholarly editions of her writings. Yet there is still much we have yet to properly understand about her writings, and Behn studies are as vibrant and diverse as ever. Recent years have seen a renewed energy in Behn scholarship that seeks to understand her writings beyond their significance to gender studies, with scholars showing how Behn’s writings engage with the burning issues of the day: marital law; monarchy; philosophy; politics; science; sexuality; slavery.

How will I learn on this module?

You will be taught through 12 weeks of classes. Each week you will have a one-hour class introducing you to a text/topic, followed by a separate two-hour workshop in which you undertake discussion and activities in relation to this text/topic. Week one will offer a general introduction to the module. In week 12 students will be offered essay tutorials for feedback on plans (assessment 2).

Class breakdown
Week 1: 1.5 hour class
Weeks 2-11: 1 hour class + 2 hour workshop
Week 12: 1.5 hour class

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Students will be provided with a module reader at the beginning of the semester containing details of preparatory reading and questions to consider each week. These questions will form the basis of class discussion and provide students with a clear overview of what to expect in each class throughout the semester. Students will bring their reader to class each week, completing notes and responses which they can draw on in their subsequent assignments.

The module tutor will discuss the two forms of module assessment in class, as well as providing supporting information in the module handbook. There will be workshopping time in seminars to prepare for the final essay, and the tutor will be available (during standard office hours) to meet with students on a one-to-one basis to give feedback on their essay plan prior to its submission.
The module handbook provides details of weekly seminars, reading lists, assessment criteria and student support. The module tutor will be available in each class, as well as in office hours and on email/phone, to discuss any queries or concerns about the module.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Enhanced understanding of the relationship between gender and the English canon
2. Knowledge of new approaches to women’s writing which move beyond gender concerns

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Self-directed research and ability to chart developments in intellectual enquiry
4. Professional presentation and technical skills

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. Cultural awareness of the position of women’s writing within British culture (both historically and today), and its relationship to ideas of gender, politics, science, sex and slavery.

How will I be assessed?

1. Powerpoint presentation (8-12 slides) + 1,000-word script (40%)
MLOs 2, 3, 4, 5

Formative assessment guidance: students can discuss presentation ideas with module tutor during feedback and consultation hours.

Feedback will initially be given via the Virtual Learning Environment. Students can also discuss this feedback in person during feedback and consultation hours.

2. 3,000-word essay (60%)
MLOs 1, 2, 3, 5

Formative assessment: students will discuss an essay plan with the module tutor during individual tutorials in week 12.

Feedback will be generated in the form of notes upon the script and a detailed summary provided on the standard feedback sheet. Students can also discuss this feedback in person during feedback and consultation hours.





Module abstract

In her groundbreaking essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929), Virginia Woolf wrote that “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”. But who was Aphra Behn, and to what extent was Woolf correct to celebrate her as the founding force of proto-feminism in British literary culture? This module explores the ways in which gendered concerns have affected access to Behn’s literature, as well as shaped (and, at times, limited) our understanding of its wider importance and meaning. For whilst Behn was deeply interested in female experience, she simultaneously sought to engage with the burning issues of the day: marital law; monarchy; philosophy; politics; science; sexuality; slavery.

Course info

UCAS Code T710

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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