Aphra Behn

Note to self: explore Aphra Behn.

It seems that (his)tories of the novel I’ve read completely ignore her. She wrote an epistolary novel fifty years before Richardson. She wrote in a first person narrative voice long before Defoe, and may deserve a great deal of attention in the development of the novel. Learn something new every day (if you pay attention).

Oh, and one more thing— calling women “broads” may come from a game? From Rictor Norton:

In a supposedly predominant form of lesbian intercourse, one woman lies at full stretch on top of another, and they mutually rub their ‘flat’ pudenda together for stimulation. In 19th-century lesbian slang this was called a ‘flat-fuck’. All of this is supposedly analogous to card games involvingthe taking of tricks, in which one playing card (or ‘flat’) is laid on top of another. The reference is to horizontal planes that don’t require vertical instruments.

The playing-card derivation, however, does depend on how early playing cards were called ‘flats’. I see that the earliest citation in the OED is dated 1812, when ‘flats’ is called a cant term for cards. No doubt the term arose earlier (e.g. ‘broads’ is cited for 1789), but how much earlier? John O’Neil’s 1698/1699 citation for “a New Game Call’d Flats with a Swinging Clitoris” is a great deal earlier than any citation describing playing cards as ‘flats’. But it clearly draws upon some sort of game, perhaps a betting game using flat games counters or broad-pieces.

1 thought on “Aphra Behn”

  1. “Supposedly” is right. The sources of all these terms tend to be porn written by and for men — so it would be interesting to know where documentation for 19th century “lesbian slang” is coming from. I think descriptions of the “flat-fuck” can generally be traced to performances by women intended for the titillation of male clients in bordellos. Oooo, a scholarly debate about sex practices in the the 19th century… Let’s go! *grin*
    Behn was a good poet and wrote some great comedies too (she may have written many great comedies, but I’ve only read a few). And Rochester was her mentor and supporter — something which the readers who describe him as a misogynist (as opposed to a naturalistic role-player) often miss.
    Unfortunately, sex practices in the 19th century isn’t really my field. As far as sex goes, I’m sorely out of practice in the 21st century. Norton didn’t really say (this was from the NASSR-L list) where his information came from, but it is his primary area of study. There’s a lot of stuff on his web site
    Behn: she doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Wrote a term paper on her 2 yrs ago, and had a hell of a time finding sourcer material on her. Some cool things to get you running to the library: she was a spy in Flanders (I think it was Rochester, actually, who got her into trouble), and Oroonoko was supposedly based on a true life story (her father had business interests in the West Indies).

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