London: Printed by E. Flesher for Richard Tonson, 1678. First Edition. Expertly bound in full red straight-grained morocco, gilt stamping to boards and spine, marbled end-papers, page edges stained yellow. Small quarto (pages 204 x 152 mm): [vi], 91, [i, epilogue], complete. Preliminary leaves A and A2 bound out of order. Minor foxing throughout, a few leaves with a small ink-blot (including the title), some leaves trimmed a bit close, just touching the header, a number of internal leaves with a small marginal slice professionally closed (no loss, no text affected). In all an excellent copy of a truly rare book with only two copies appearing at auction since the 1930s (one apparently defective).
Released eight years into Behn's dramatic career, Sir Patient Fancy bears the marks of its author's success. Preceding her play with an epistle To the Reader and concluding it with an Epilogue, Behn acknowledges that she has created both a stage play and a lasting work of literature -- that her audience includes both the viewing audience and the reading public. As a contributor to the canon, she also claims the right to speak both under her own name and in her own voice to shape how her text is received. "I printed this play with all the impatient haste one ought to do, who would be vindicated from the most unjust and silly aspersion Woman could invent to cast on Woman; and which only my being a Woman has procured me; that it was Baudy, the least and most excusable fault in Men writers, to whose plays they all crowd." In her front matter, she positions herself as author and authority, and she calls upon readers to judge her play not based upon her sex, but upon its merit. Like her contemporaries, Behn makes good comedic use of female actors on the stage. Still considered a new and intriguing addition to the English theater, women having been banned until 1660, the presence of women's bodies onstage heightened the hilarity of the young Lucretia's attempt to cavort with her strapping lover Charles despite constant interruptions and hurdles posed by her aging husband. As the play ends, Behn once more speaks to her readers, and the text notes that, onstage, the final words were voiced by the infamous actress and royal mistress Nell Gwynne: "What has poor Woman done that she must be Debar'd from Sense and Sacred Poetrie? Why in this age has heaven allowed you more and Women less...We were once fam'd in Story, and could write Equall to men; Cou'd govern, nay cou'd fight. We still have passive Valour...pray tell me then, Why should Women not write as well as men?" An important and exceptionally rare piece of early feminist work, produced by England's first professional female playwright. (Item #2156)