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BEHN

Beebe, Ann. "'I Sent Over These Adventures': Women in The Female American and The Widow Ranter," WS, 45.7 (2016), 624–637.

Ms. Beebe's discussion of the similarities between Aphra Behn's The Widow Ranter (pub. 1690) and the anonymous The Female American; or, The Adventures of Unca Eliza Winkfield (1767) largely serves to establish the growing importance of Behn's play and the continuing interest in finding a proper, literary home for the intriguing Female American. What it does not do is deliver on its promise to demonstrate a "compelling correspondence between Behn's female characters and Unca Eliza Winkfield." More rightly, it demonstrates how acts of thoughtful, detailed comparison between texts can generate correspondence even without evidence of direct lines of influence.

Ms. Beebe concedes this latter point right away: "While the author of The Female American may not have read The Widow Ranter specifically, he or she is likely familiar with Restoration drama and Aphra Behn." Yet having acknowledged the greater likelihood of a familiarity with Restoration drama and with Aphra Behn by reputation (largely scandalous by 1767), she still organizes her argument around The Widow Ranter "serv[ing] as an inspiration for The Female American." This claim of direct inspiration rests on thin evidence throughout. A key point of comparison, for instance, is the novel's tragicomic plot and its generic hybridity, two features of Restoration drama in general. Discovering a quest for "voice" and "autonomy" for the female characters is likely enough for any text viewed through a feminist perspective. At the end of Ms. Beebe's argument, crossdressing emerges as a final example of what unites the characterization of these two works' eponymous heroines, The Widow Ranter and Unca Eliza—but crossdressing has long served as one of the most generic of subversive techniques for questioning patriarchal authority. Even Ms. Beebe's more interesting discussion of how each work employs humor to assert "woman's right to make her own financial and matrimonial decisions" suggests more differences than similarities, as Widow Ranter's "bawdy humor" contrasts with Unca Eliza's "sly humor."

This essay makes a productive case for [End Page 1] the significance of colonial America as an imaginative context for women-centered narratives during the long eighteenth century. As Ms. Beebe notes, both "the novel and the play reference historical documents from colonial North America in order to authenticate and authorize the distinctly female stories at their centers," and each "imagines a feminist colonial utopia, however briefly, in which a woman's story is valued enough to be returned to England and shared with the public." These works may not share a direct relationship, but considering them together helps us to see how the contested, "unruly" spaces of an imagined new world can result in more fluid, hybrid, femalecentered narratives.

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Evans, Mel. "Style and Chronology: A Stylometric Investigation of Aphra Behn's Dramatic Style and the Dating of The Young King," Lang&Lit, 27.2 (2018), 103–132.

The Young King was staged in 1679 but not printed until early 1683 (entered, Michaelmas 1682). This alone attracts attention since Behn's plays were usually published within six months of production. Adding to the questions is Behn's dedication to Philaster; all of her other dedications were to identifiable persons. Further, Behn signs her dedication to Philaster not with initials or name, but with her spy name, Astrea. Finally, in her dedication, Behn raises still more questions by terming the play a "youthful sally of my Pen, this first Essay of my Infant-Poetry," adding that she waited to bring this play forward because she "feared reproach of being an American." Might The Young King have been written—or at least started—while she was in the New World in the early 1660s?

Ms. Evans addresses this and related questions through stylometric analysis. Using databases of frequently used words, most frequent function words, and mid-frequency words (called zeta words), computers develop a signature "fingerprint," which differs from writer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-0624
Print ISSN
0190-731X
Pages
pp. 1-77
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-15
Open Access
No
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