Comparing Aphra Behn (1640?–89) and Mary Astell (1666-1731) may seem like an

odd enterprise.1 The genres that these two women practiced and the manner in which

they led their lives were indeed disparate. Behn drank life deeply. She partook in

and celebrated worldly living, including rakish men and cross-dressing women. She

wrote about youth, beauty, and sexual adventure. Astell lived a far more reclusive,

woman-centered existence. She placed the highest value not in seeking “only the

wisdom of this World,” but in striving toward the perfection of the next.2 Behn used

her pen to entertain and earn herself a living, mastering numerous literary styles

along the way. Astell sought to enlighten and persuade through her pamphlets on

education, religion, and marriage, and to pulverize the political opposition through

her virulent polemics.