21 November 2022

An Ode to Aphra Behn

As novelist Virginia Woolf first wrote in her famed essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in 1929 – “All women together ought to let flowers fall on the tomb of Aphra Behn … for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

Aphra Behn, who was arguably the most prolific dramatic and innovative writer of fiction of her time (as well as a spy in Antwerp for King Charles II), was also the first English woman to earn her living solely by her pen.

With striking success, she operated outside of gender conventions and wrote during the 17th century with wit and bawdiness to offer unique and unparalleled female insight into sex, politics, marriage, motherhood, religion, and sexuality. Now studied extensively on literature courses, she was remarkable, talented and – above all – ahead of her time. 

Behn broke down the status quo, undoubtedly making an impact through her work, innovating against the tide of the time, and proving in her exceptional narratives that true skill speaks above anything else.

When I sat in my study in 2017 trying to name my new marketing agency, it almost felt impossible to find a name that someone hadn’t already taken – and that could also summarise the unique and fresh approach we wanted to have in the agency market. Then my husband told me to think back to my time at university, and whether any names stood out – and there, Aphra was. Unique, original, different, and perfectly aligned. It just worked.

In Aphra, I felt like I had found a spirit sister. Someone who, albeit several centuries divided, understood what it was to be a woman in a man’s world – even if, at that time, she existed in a world significantly more divided than our own. She so naturally, effortlessly, and subconsciously provided us with our vision, direction, and narrative in which we could create our own unique identity.

The very fact that I was able – without fear of fight or recrimination – to launch my own agency as a woman in which my voice was listened to, respected, and acted upon felt like I owed a huge amount of gratitude to Aphra Behn.

Without her, and the many women after her, who have fought for our position in society, I never would be able to have the job I have, or to empower my daughter to have her own voice either.

Aphra fought to break the status quo, to do things differently, and to innovate against what was known – and this directly mirrors the exact approach I have hoped to take with Aphra. I was tired of the existing agency mindset, where so much of it seemed to be flexed on poor quality work, lies to customers, outsourced skills, and bad experiences. There had to be something better out there, and why couldn’t we be the ones to find and provide it?

As we have traversed through the complex path of building and growing Aphra – who has almost been reborn in a new metamorphic identity through our agency – we have made mistakes, charted successes, and defined who we are. In doing so, I have certainly felt like there has been a guardian angel on my shoulder along the way – and, whomever that may be, they have given me confidence that I can ‘trust the journey’, because the journey will ultimately all work out in the end.

But also, when I look at Aphra’s portrait to remind myself who has been underpinning all that we do, I see an ally – and a woman I can’t let down. Divided by centuries we may be, but we both had – and have – a point to prove. And maybe in centuries to come, there will be another young woman who looks to her ancestors, and sees a mission she needs to continue, to help make an impact for the future of womankind.

“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.”

– Chaos theory

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