Medieval and Early Modern Studies PhD student, Charlotte Cornell, is the Chair of ‘A is for Aphra‘, a charity fundraising for a statue of poet, novelist, playwright and spy, Aphra Behn in Canterbury.
Prior to undertaking her PhD research at the University of Kent, Charlotte studied BA English Literature at Durham University, and went onto King’s College London / Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to study an MA in Text and Performance, and holds a MSt in Creative Writing from Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
We caught up with Charlotte to find out more about the legendary Aphra Behn and the charity’s fundraising campaign.
Could you please tell us a bit about ‘A is for Aphra’?
We have just launched our fundraising campaign to get Aphra Behn a statue in her home city of Canterbury. We are looking to raise £80k to get a full-life bronze of this amazing glass-ceiling-smashing, feminist / LGBTQ+ icon and serious literary talent in our amazing city – we should be celebrating her incredible life and achievements.
Aphra Behn was the first professional woman writer. She was born just outside of Canterbury in 1640 but her family soon moved to the city and she grew up here. She became a spy for Charles II before becoming the most produced playwright between 1670 and her death in 1689. Her novel ‘Oronooko’ is also claimed by some to be the world’s first novel and it certainly was a key text used by the abolitionist movement, as it exposed the horrors of slavery to a white, London public in a way that art and literature had not done before. In short, she was incredible and the project is a step in honouring and cementing her legacy.
What are the aims of the fundraising mission?
Well, we need to raise a lot of money for a statue but we are starting by asking the public for any donation, however small, to begin us on that path. Please see www.aisforaphra.org to donate.
We have also issued four free lesson plans on Behn’s life and work that can be downloaded and used by any school in the world. We want to educate the public about Aphra Behn, so that she sits firmly in the public consciousness as one of the ‘Grandmothers of English Literature’ and will be running events, fundraisers and issuing more materials that will spread the word about the amazing Aphra Behn.
Could you please tell us a bit about your PhD research?
I’m doing a PhD on the first 20 years of Aphra Behn’s life. Most biographers skim over Behn’s life before her first confirmed spying mission (on the Dutch – at the same time as the Great Plague of 1665/1666). Hopefully my research will correct the early record a little bit.
You can follow A is for Aphra on Twitter @AphraStatue and also keep up with the latest on Charlotte’s work @charlocornell.