Aphra Behn

Leslie Zemeckis
4 min readMay 15, 2023

By Robbie Wood

Her pale hand trembled as she gripped the pen. She carved each letter into the page with

extreme delicacy. Her fingers ached. Each day the pain worsened. She wished she could stop it,

but that wasn’t something she could do. Her debts had landed her in the position she was in, and

she had no money to pay for the help she so desperately needed. Her arthritis had nearly crippled

her hands and her health continued to decline with each year. If she had been born a man, things

would have been different. All she could do was write until the day her words ran out. Aphra

Behn was going to change the world no matter how long it took.

The plays were supposed to help, but the crowds grew less and less interested in the same

old, replayed stories she had written years before. No one cared about “The Amorous Prince,” by

Aphra Behn anymore. She needed something fresh. Something new. Something to hold her

audience’s gaze long enough to pay off her debts. She sat at her desk and wrote until the words

made sense, and eventually, everything did. In 1687, the play, “The Emperor of the Moon,” was

born. It gave her the freedom to write prose while the coins trickled into her pockets.

By no means did she feel rich. Every dollar she made went toward her living expenses

and payments that seemed to never end. The temporary income did give her space to write what

she wanted and how she wanted. She dreamed of writing a story that would inspire other women

to write as well. She began to dive into every aspect of her environment. She hoped that

something could bring her an ounce of creativity. She walked through the gardens and sat at the

coffee shops with her journal. She listened to the low hum of gossip that filled the streets.

Everybody was curious about what their neighbor did behind closed doors, and so was she.

One day, she sat on a bench near the garden pond and listened. The leaves rustled through

the trees. The geese squawked back and forth. The waves pushed slightly against the shore. A

soft giggle could be heard from behind the bushes. She walked toward the voice and peeked

through the hedge. A woman stood facing away from her. A man held his hand on her waist and

pulled her closer. He looked familiar. His large nose and stiff shoulders could be recognized

anywhere. It was Lord Grey. He was a nobleman, a married one at that. What was he doing in

the gardens with a mysterious woman? Aphra listened more closely.

“We should run away together and elope, Henrietta,” he said. “Leave this rubbish world

behind us.”

“But my Lord, you know we mustn’t do that,” she whispered back. “It would kill my

sister if she knew.”

He scoffed and rubbed his hand on his forehead.

“I don’t care what she thinks,” he said. “She never loved me like you do. I choose you.”

“Do you truly mean that?” Henrietta asked.

“Every word, my love.” He kissed her and they laughed.

Aphra stopped watching and wrote down everything she had heard. Lord Grey was to

elope with Lady Henrietta Berkeley, his sister-in-law, in secret. It was such a scandal she had to

share with the world. She went home and wrote the outlandish story of their love affair. It was a

masterpiece. She did change the names and add a little extra drama, but ultimately it was based

on a true story. She was so proud of her work, but she was afraid if she published under her own

name, then no one would read it.

In 1685, she published the book anonymously. The title was “Love-Letters Between a

Nobleman and His Sister.” The streets buzzed with gossip and the story was a huge success. That

story would go on to have more than sixteen editions published before 1800. She, however,

would not live long enough to see that success. Although she had earned enough money to pay

for her medical needs, there hadn’t been enough time to reverse the damage already done to her


On April 16, 1689, the first female to make a living for herself with her writing passed

away. She was a woman remembered for her wit and cleverness. Her life had been dedicated to

poetry and pleasure. Although she didn’t live to see her greatest success, she left an

impressionable mark on generations of women to come. Her boldness would pave the way for

women everywhere to see that they too can be a writer or an artist or whatever they want to be.

There are no limits to what a female can become, and she proved that. The legacy of Aphra Behn

will live on for years to come.

Writer Robbie Wood

Stories Matter is a mentoring program founded by writer Leslie Zemeckis, and co-sponsored by the SBIFF and ENTITY Magazine, for young female writers, nurturing and inspiring the next generation of writers to tell their stories. A weekly intensive with published female author’s giving their time to encourage greatness and share their writing process. The theme was “A Woman You Should Know.” These stories are the best of the bunch, some remain works-in-progress, some will (hopefully) take these stories and turn them into longer pieces. (more info on Instagram Leslie Zemeckis



Leslie Zemeckis

Author (Feuding Fan Dancers), Historian (Behind the Burly Q), Actor (Polar Express) & Doc. Director (BOUND BY FLESH -Netflix). (IG/FB @lesliezemeckis)