Aphra Behn and the Early Modern Book Trade
Chair: Gillian Wright, Reader in English and Irish Literature, University of Birmingham
This panel derives from ‘Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age’, a Standard Research Grant project funded by the AHRC between 2016 and 2020. An interdisciplinary project, ‘Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age’ has centrally involved collaboration between literary scholars and digital humanities specialists, who have worked together to produce the print/electronic Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn, as well as associated digital outputs such as an electronic workbench and a website.
This panel will report on key findings from the project as it reaches the end of its AHRC-funded period and as the first tranche of the Cambridge Behn edition nears completion. Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) was famously hailed by Virginia Woolf as the first Englishwoman to earn her living by her pen. Yet although she is among the best-known women writers of her period, Behn’s reputation among scholars has largely rested on just a few works (principally, her comedy The
Rover and her slave narrative Oroonoko). Research for the Cambridge edition has uncovered fascinating new evidence as to the extent and detail of Behn’s engagement with the contemporary book trade across the full spread of her diverse oeuvre. Careful collation of original copies of her works, now held in scholarly libraries throughout the world, has revealed the degree to which these texts were subject to stop-press correction, while research into individual publications has both illuminated the astonishing intellectual and generic range of Behn’s work and provided evidence to assess her creative interactions with a wide array of book trade professionals. The project has also enabled a systematic re-evaluation of the many dubious works attributed to Behn after her death, through the use of both literary and digital humanities methods. An exemplary application of cuttingedge computational stylistics techniques to literary texts, the project’s work on attribution has helped to clarify not only the boundaries of the Behn canon but also the commercial significance of Behn’s name in the decade after her death.
‘Aphra Behn and the Early Modern Book Trade’ will comprise three papers: on the collation of early Behn editions (Claire Bowditch); on the placement of Behn’s works with a wide range of booksellers (Elaine Hobby); and on the insights to be gained from computational stylistics analysis of her attested texts and dubia (Mel Evans).
Claire Bowditch, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Loughborough University
Mel Evans, Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, University of Leicester
Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies, Loughborough University