The Memory of Romance: Love and War in Aphra Behn's Colonial Virginia

Rebecca Lush
2011 An Interdisciplinary Journal   unpublished
A phra Behn, prolific English playwright and novelist, retells the 1676 events of the colonial uprising in Virginia known as Bacon' s Rebellion, adding a fictional romantic story about the love between an Indian Queen, Semernia, and the colonist Nathaniel Bacon in her play The Widow Ranter (1690), performed and published posthumously. 1 The love between Behn' s characters is doomed from the start, not only because Semernia is married, but also because each lover belongs to an opposing faction
more » ... opposing faction of the colonial rebellion. This love story represents a nostalgic longing for an earlier moment in colonial history that counters the present moment of defeat and violence. At the height of the play' s action Semernia recollects her personal and idealized memory of Bacon from a more peaceful time and attempts to recast the fraught tensions of the current colonial uprising and the subsequent decimation of her tribe in terms of an unsuccessful love affair. The shift from the collective and shared colonial experience to the personal and emotional privileges the experience of the individual over the nation or body politic, and thus suppresses the very issues that incited the Rebellion. Behn represents Semernia' s personal memory of Bacon as a tool to elide the omnipresent violence of the Rebellion and colonial encroachments on Native land. Behn' s dramatic portrayal shows how memory functions to reshape unpleasant political histories by shifting the focus to interpersonal romantic entanglements and blurs the distinction between personal and cultural memories.