The Fair Jilt Background

The Fair Jilt Background

Aphra Behn’s 50-page novella The Fair Jilt details the rather bizarre incidents involved with an incredibly beautiful and seductively dangerous femme fatale named Miranda with a penchant for bringing about death and devastation upon her admirers. The Fair Jilt would today under any circumstances conceivable be categorized as fiction. Perhaps it would be placed within the genre of Romance or even possibly as Adventure, but make no mistake that it would inconceivable to discover it within the non-fiction section of your favorite retail book store or online library except by pure accident. The author upon publication did not quite see things that way. As was the case with almost all of Behn’s novels and more than a few publications of her peers during the early days of the British novel in the latter decades of the 17th century, prefatory material included in The Fair Jilt went to great pains to portray the story following as historical documentation. Or, at the very least, as some strange hybrid of journalism and fiction.

In a way, The Fair Jilt is a predecessor to the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s characterized most artistically by Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. In a more accurate way, Behn’s admittedly thrilling and often insightful works like The Fair Jilt and Oronooko are closer to the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest. They seem real…the sound real…and they can even be mistake for real…but the author’s claims to witnessing the execution of Prince Tarquin gone horrifying wrong would be a bit like saying you were in the audience the night the drummer for Spinal Tap spontaneously combusted.

Well, perhaps not the same thing. While Behn did make claims to the historical accuracy of her book overall as well as claims about eyewitness accounts, a republished version in 1915 contained the following as part of the prefatory material added by editor Montague Summers as regards the difference between was real and what was purely invented fiction within the narrative of Aphra Behn's The Fair Jilt: “any attempt to disentangle the twain would be idle indeed.”

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