Canterbury’s Aphra Behn (1640-1689): Literature’s best kept secret

8 June - 18 August 2024
Tuesday - Saturday 10.00-17:00, Sundays 11:00-16:00 (Closed Mondays)
Free to all

An exhibition exploring the dramatic life and work of this important writer.

Born on the edge of Canterbury in Harbledown in 1640, Aphra Johnson, the daughter of a barber and a woman serving as a wetnurse, was to become the first professional woman writer in English, Aphra Behn.

As Aphra Behn, she became a spy and then a fantastically successful playwright, poet, translator, and fiction-writer, who was buried in Westminster Abbey.

This exhibition celebrates the startling achievements of this daughter of Canterbury, which included two plays so loved by audiences that they were performed on the London stage every season for over 50 years and a novella, Oroonoko, the first fiction in English to centre on a rebellion of enslaved Africans.

We trace her story, starting in a world where outspoken women might be punished, via her spying trip to Antwerp in 1666, to her glittering London career in the 1670s and 1680s.

Despite her successes, her journey was full of challenges. As she wryly remarked in the preface to her comedy Sir Patient Fancy, in 1678, ‘The play had no other misfortune but that of coming out for a woman’s; had it been owned by a man, though the most dull, unthinking, rascally scribbler in town, it had been a most admirable play’.

As Canterbury unveils its publicly funded statue of Aphra, come and find out about the obstacles she faced and celebrate what she achieved despite them.

Exhibition includes:

Loans from The National Archives, The National Portrait Gallery, The National Trust, The Amelia Tunbridge Wells, Kent Libraries, Registration & Archives and the Dean and Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral.

Family friendly activities inspired by Aphra Behn’s work as a playwright and spy!

This listing is supplied by one of our museum partners and is not moderated by Art Fund.

Get a National Art Pass and explore The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge

You'll see more art and your membership will help museums across the UK

National Art Pass offers available at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge

10% off in shop

Expires: 1 Jan 2025

IndividualTiana Clarke Please note this is an example card and not a reflection of the final product

Visitor information


The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge

18 High Street, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2RA
01227 862162

Free to all

Opening times

Visit our website for a latest opening hours at thebeaney.co.uk/plan-your-visit

Exclusions and safety measures

Visit our website for details on our safety measures at thebeaney.co.uk/plan-your-visit

Visitor information

IndividualTiana Clarke Please note this is an example card and not a reflection of the final product

The more you see, the more we do.

The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.

Are your sure you want to leave checkout?