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Conference Presentations: European Society for Textual Scholarship

April 2023, University of Kent, Canterbury

In mid-April, Elaine Hobby and Mel Evans attended the 2023 conference of the European Society for Textual Scholarship (ESTS). The group explores histories and cultures of text (literary and otherwise) and it was a great opportunity to hear about ongoing research from colleagues and also share some updates about the Behn edition (you can read the organising team’s report of the event here). More pertinently, perhaps, the theme of the conference was ‘authorship’, in all its myriad meanings and interpretations, which allowed us to discuss our explorations of and decisions on this topic so far in relation to our new edition of Behn’s works.

Elaine’s paper outlined the principles of the edition and the evolution of the General Editors’ thinking about how to handle the dubia associated with Behn. Should we have a ‘dubia’ volume? Do we include the dubious texts but provide less mark-up and editorial commentary than for a more reliably attested ‘Behn’ text? How do we frame and position those works, many of which have a long-standing association with Behn, that we do not confidently believe are hers (with authorship conventionally defined)?

Elaine’s paper yielded a lively response; the discussions prompted some reflection and thought on the marketability of an edition that did not include a work that people would expect to find on the basis of its long association with an author. Questions, too, were asked about the role of an editorial team to make pronouncements about what an author did or didn’t write to a degree that it would determine a future generation’s appreciation of their literary and wider outputs. Elaine’s view was that the Behn editorial team was approaching this edition from a feminist perspective, and thereby not seeking to dictate the questions and evidence that future researchers might start with. These are the principles we continue to work to.

The following day, Mel’s talk explored more specifically the process of computational stylistic analysis, and the steps necessary to establish how such tests might be valid when applied to Behn’s works, such as her prose fiction. The prose has been occupying Mel’s research a fair bit recently, as it’s proven a bit of a Pandora’s box. Part of the challenge relates to the limited availability of Behn’s securely attributed prose works, for which we have four texts: Oroonoko, History of the Nun, The Fair Jilt and – despite its publication shortly after Behn’s death – The Lucky Mistake. Methodologically, the analysis conducted so far suggests that using language from Behn’s other writings is of limited use when examining her prose style from an authorial perspective.

And in terms of answering questions about Behn’s prose style and the likelihood of her authorial involvement in the posthumous short fiction, the results at this stage offer little to suggest that these works are typical of Behn’s prose work – nor, indeed, that the eight texts were written by the same person (Behn, or otherwise). For instance, a basic cluster analysis using 600MFW from a corpus of Restoration prose fiction, including Behn’s known works, successfully groups works by Behn, and also works by another author, Belon, together. However, three of the dubia (The Black Lady, The Court of the King of Bantam and The Dumb Virgin) do not share stylistic traits with Behn using this measure. There is still much to explore here, of course, and the feedback on the talk was very helpful in thinking about other directions to prioritise and pursue.

Cluster Analysis (slide from ESTS presentation, Evans 2023)

The trip to Canterbury was a great opportunity to share our thinking and some findings – and provided an ideal trial run in anticipation for next summer’s Aphra Behn Europe conference, which will also take place at the University of Kent: ‘Aphra Behn and her Restoration’, 2-4th July 2024. For more information on that, please visit the University of Kent conference page.

Reading ‘The Rover’

St Peter’s Church, Canterbury (image copyright Elaine Hobby)

Reading The Rover with 18 other Aphra Behn afficionados in St Peter’s church in Canterbury. With an audience of curious onlookers who stayed and stayed, even as the church got colder and colder. That might not be everyone’s ideal Bank Holiday activity, but for me, nothing could have been more dazzling. And the fact that this coincided with a supposedly national jubilee for Elizabeth II means that I shall always remember my version of a street party.

The Rover is not only (perhaps) Behn’s best play – certainly, her most successful, being performed in London every season for decades after her death – it is also very dear to my heart. Having taught it (at least) a hundred times over the years, and seen (I think) twelve productions, I’ve also edited it for our Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn, and it will appear in Volume II in 2023.

Angellica Bianca with pistol (image copyright Charlotte Cornell)

But being required to ‘be’ Willmore – I had no control over the casting! – I learned how wholly callous he is. Despite the occasional flights of poetic fancy, he is entirely without conscience – or, indeed, any sense that a person might need one. Having made friends with ‘Angellica Bianca’ before we started, I was very glad when she accepted with alacrity the use of my grandsons’ mock-gun as she forced Willmore to back across the stage, again and again. I’d always thought it a great pity that Don Antonio should happen by just as Angellica has told Willmore that she has to kill him ‘for the publick safety of our sex’. Such a shame.

If that’s your idea of fun, do come along on Saturday 11 June to Canterbury to participate in – or just watch, if you prefer – the reading of Behn’s last play to be premiered, The Younger Brother. The play’s not as well-known as it should be, though Margarete Rubik’s edition in Volume IV of The Cambridge Edition is starting to change that. Central is Mirtilla – married, juggling with that the passionate attraction to her of two men, and herself infatuated with her page who turns out, of course, to be a woman. What’s not to enjoy?

A reading of The Rover, St Peter’s Church, Canterbury (image copyright Elaine Hobby)

Participants are invited to sign up on the Canterbury Commemoration Society Events page. Or, if you want to come but are too snowed under this month, how about The Widow Ranter on 2 July?

A is for Aphra Statue Campaign: Shortlist Announced

The A is the Aphra campaign team (which includes our very own Prof Elaine Hobby), continue to work towards the creation of a statue of Behn in her birth city of Canterbury, Kent.

This week they have reached an exciting stage in the process: a shortlist of four sculptors: Victoria Atkinson, Meredith Bergmann, Maurice Blik and Christine Charlesworth.

The artists are now tasked with creating 50cm bronze maquettes. The winning design will be voted for by the public later this year.

You can read more about the campaign and the shortlisted designers here

If you wish to support the campaign, please see the official website:

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