Aphra Behn and the verse epistle

2009-12-23T16:03:02Z (GMT) by W.J. Overton
The verse epistle is a key eighteenth-century form that developed in the Renaissance but gained critical mass only during the Restoration. Despite increasing scholarly attention to the work of Aphra Behn, including her poetry, her verse epistles remain relatively little discussed, and the role she played in establishing the form has not been recognized. Once Behn’s contributions to the form are identified, their importance in her work, as measured both by their number and their quality, becomes clear, especially when compared with the work of other writers of her period. She produced examples both of the Horatian familiar epistle, and, in “Oenone to Paris”, a striking rewriting of an Ovidian heroic epistle, along with amatory epistles, satirical epistles, and one complimentary epistle. Not only are her verse epistles important in their own right, but they influenced other writers, male and female. They are particularly distinctive for the turn she gave, as a woman writer, to a form previously practised chiefly by men.