Culture secretary

Campaign for Aphra Behn statue in Canterbury backed by Culture Secretary as shortlist revealed

The Culture Secretary has thrown her weight behind plans to honor a pioneering author with a statue in Kent.

Nadine Dorries has praised the campaign to bring a statue of Aphra Behn to Canterbury – a shortlist of potential sculptors has been revealed.

Aphra Behn

Known as the first professional woman writer in the English language, Behn was born in Harbledown in 1640 and her family moved to the town a few years later during the Civil War.

Her extraordinary life saw her rise to fame as a playwright, poet, novelist and spy, before she died aged 48 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Canterbury charity A is for Aphra was set up last year with the ambition to see Behn “finally celebrated and commemorated” with a bronze effigy in her home town.

The charity is working on the project with the Canterbury Commemoration Society.

Government Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, herself a published author, has now hailed the project, saying: “Aphra Behn has paved the way for women writers everywhere – myself included.

“She had the courage to speak her mind and the audacity to write about topics traditionally considered ‘male only’.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries.  Photo: Parliament
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries. Photo: Parliament

“She opened up new territory for all of us, and any woman who seeks to make her profession in the world of writing owes her a debt of gratitude.”

A is for Aphra has unveiled its shortlist of four sculptors, each of whom has come up with a project for the statue they hope to bring to fruition.

Each of the shortlisted artists will now make a bronze model – a smaller preliminary model – of their design.

On the A for Aphra website, the charity says: “These will be visited at key Behn-related locations in June and July 2022.

“The public will be able to vote for their favorite statue at this point, both in person and online.”

Sketch by Christine Charlesworth for her proposal for
Sketch by Christine Charlesworth for her proposal for “Aphra: Playwright, Poet, Pioneer”. Image: A is for Aphra
Maurice Blik's proposal, 'Mind Over Matter'.  Image: A is for Aphra
Maurice Blik’s proposal, ‘Mind Over Matter’. Image: A is for Aphra

Among the shortlisted artists is Victoria Atkinson, a sculptor based on the Kent-Sussex border whose statue by Rudyard Kipling stands in the village of Burwash, East Sussex, where he lived.

American sculptor and poet Meredith Bergmann, whose Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument was unveiled in Central Park, New York, in 2020, is also on the shortlist.

The same goes for the former president of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, Maurice Blik; alongside Royal Society of Arts Fellow Christine Charlesworth, who recently produced a sculpture of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison for the Epsom center and a life-size effigy of Greta Thurnberg for Winchester University.

A is for Aphra needs to raise around £125,000 to fund the statue.

He has so far raised just over £9,300 and continues to appeal for donations.

Playwright, Poet, Pioneer;  Model in progress by Christine Charlesworth
Playwright, Poet, Pioneer; Model in progress by Christine Charlesworth
A raw model of Victoria Atkinson.
A raw model of Victoria Atkinson.

Charlotte Cornell, local writer, poet and PhD student at the University of Kent, who leads the statue project, said: “Aphra deserves recognition, not just because she was the first professional woman writer, but because she was an excellent writer. Aphra rivals Dryden, Etheredge, and Sheridan for wit in her brilliant pieces and for the amount of work she produced.

“As far as the statue is concerned, it should not be seen as a feminist occupation of a public space; rather, it is the correction of a terrible injustice.

“Women throughout the centuries have well-deserved places commemorated in the public sphere, but this has denied them for too long. The Aphra Network is part of a UK-wide movement called Visible Women.

“We are erecting statues across the country for these women overlooked by a history that has been mostly recorded by men. If you achieve something fantastic, you should be celebrated: I hope that nowadays we are delighted to commemorate our daughters as well as our sons.’

Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, participated in the shortlisting process. She said: “It was almost impossible to choose. We had young Aphras, older Aphras, Aphras wearing male clothes, Aphras standing on stacks of books, Aphras with words lit up through huge skirts, drawings Aphra was writing on on desks or was composing verses as he walked.

Charlotte Cornell
Charlotte Cornell

“With so many designs, we had to whittle down the list the old fashioned way – democratically. In the end, we decided on the top 4 by each voting for our 10 favorites and then advocating for those we chose. “I am delighted that such an inspiring woman has come from Canterbury. We have to make up for three centuries of neglect, making a lot of noise around it.

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