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Voting open for Canterbury's Aphra Behn statue


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Members of the public are being asked to vote on which statue of a famous author should be installed in a city centre.

The artwork is being commissioned in celebration of Aphra Behn - the first professional female writer in the English language - who was born and raised in Canterbury.

The four shortlisted Aphra Behn statue designs (Left to right are designs by Maurice Blik, Meredith Bergmann, Christine Charlesworth and Victoria Atkinson). Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society
The four shortlisted Aphra Behn statue designs (Left to right are designs by Maurice Blik, Meredith Bergmann, Christine Charlesworth and Victoria Atkinson). Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society

People are now invited to view and vote on the four shortlisted designs, with hopes the winning effigy will be erected in the city's high street.

Behn was born in the Canterbury area in 1640, and lived in and around the city for at least the first 16 years of her life.

A playwright, poet, novelist and spy, her book Love-letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister is hailed as the first English novel.

Canterbury charity A is for Aphra has joined with The Canterbury Commemoration Society and Loughborough University, with the ambition of seeing a statue of Aphra Behn erected in Behn's home city.

Charlotte Cornell - teacher, poet and founder of A is for Aphra - describes Behn as "the true grandmother of English Literature".

Aphra Behn. Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society
Aphra Behn. Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society

Meanwhile, Virginia Woolf once wrote: "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the power to speak their minds."

Stewart Ross, writer and chair of the Canterbury Commemoration Society says the statue campaign is "righting a great injustice".

"[Behn] was written out of history because of the changing expectations around the role of women," he said. "We are putting her back where she belongs."

Eminent Behn scholar Professor Elaine Hobby agrees, adding: "Without Behn, we wouldn’t have Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and other great writers; Behn gave other women the power to believe they could publish and succeed."

Four statue designs by internationally-renowned artists were shortlisted from nearly 50 submissions for the project.

A map of the locations at which the statues will be shown. Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society
A map of the locations at which the statues will be shown. Picture: Canterbury Commemoration Society

Those shortlisted are Maurice Blik Aphra Behn with his piece 'Mind over Matter'; Meredith Bergmann with 'The Untamed Heart'; Christine Charlesworth with 'Aphra Behn: Playwright, Poet, Pioneer'; and Victoria Atkinson with 'Astrea'.

Voting is open until midday on September 1, and must be done via the Canterbury Commemoration Society website.

Bronze castings of the four designs have now been created, and are set to tour the UK from next week.

They will begin at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon on June 27 and 28.

They will then appear at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on June 30, at Penshurst Place near Tonbridge on July 4 and 5, and at Canterbury Cathedral on July 9.

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