In the British literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the presence of women suddenly becomes noticeable and crucial to the sociological studies of these time periods. Women begin to appear with increasing significance in two aspects of the literature: as more recognized authors, in a time when literature is dominated by men, and as key, main characters, portraying a flawed society.
During the seventeenth century, a time in which women are thought to be incomplete human beings, soulless, and mere possessions of men, various women dare to challenge the idea of their inferiority in society’s views. One of the most noticeable is Rachel Speght, referred to as a “tolerably well-educated young woman of the London middle class [. . .] with some classical education--very rare for seventeenth century women of any class” (Abrams, 1B: 1556). In her three-hundred-line, substantially autobiographical poem, “A Dream,” Speght presents a personification of society’s views as Dissuassion who attempts to convince her of not pursuing her quest for knowledge in the Garden of Erudition because of the “dulness, and [her] memory’s defect, / the difficulty of attaining lore / [her] time, [her] sex” (103-8). Not only
Furthermore, her work "may be the only contribution by a woman to the vigorous Jacobean pamphlet war touched off by Swetnam over woman"tms place and role . In her poem "The Golden Age," Behn attacks society"tms view of female sexual desire as sin by stating the following: "Oh cursed Honor! thou who first didst damn A woman to the sin of shame; Honor! that robb'st us of our gust" (qtd. With such precedents, the absence of female authors and significant women characters in the literature of the Restoration period is almost unthinkable. is she the author of the work, but Speght also goes as far as to make herself the main character, a woman in the search of knowledge that society"tms establishments attempt to deny her. The account criticizes sexist beliefs regarding a woman"tms right to be learned, as evidenced in the character Truth:Both man and woman of three parts consist,Which Paul doth body, soul, and spirit call:And from the soul three faculties arise,The mind, the will, the power; then wherefore shallA woman have her intellect in vain,Or not endeavor Knowledge to attain (127-32)Thus, Speght begins to undertake a transformation of the stereotypes regarding women which existed during the seventeenth century, paving the way for future generations of female writers. She was the first professional female writer in England, and for the first twenty years of her career, she was the only female playwright" ("Aphra Behn"). She "was a professional spy for England, code-named "Astrea"tm or Agent 160. Behn"tms role as a female author in the eighteenth century became so crucial that, later, Virginia Woolf states that "all women together ought let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, .