The Disappointment (Aphra Behn)

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"The Disappointment" is a poem written by Aphra Behn. It was first published in 1680 (see 1680 in poetry) in the Earl of Rochester's Poems on Several Occasions[1] and originally was believed to be Rochester’s own work. However, four years later, the poem was re-published in Aphra Behn’s “Poems on Several Occasions” and she received proper credit.[2]


Lysander, a shepherd, attempts to engage in sexual intercourse with Cloris, a maid. After a lengthy seduction, Lysander prematurely ejaculates[3][4] and leaves Cloris sexually frustrated. Behn's focus on the female sexual experience is unusual for the time,[3] though not unusual for Behn. Behn often dealt with overt sexuality in her writing, but this perspective often was not accepted by the public until well after death[1]


"The Disappointment" is grouped with other male 'imperfect enjoyment' poems, where a male's failing is attributed to female beauty.[3][4] Rather than focus on explaining Lysander's failure, Behn is concerned with Cloris's disappointment, as the title of the poem illustrates.[3] Another interesting aspect of the poem is the way Aphra Behn personifies honor and shame as existing externally from Cloris[5] as if honor “abandons” her of its own free will, and shame replaces it without Cloris’ consent.

Critical Reception[edit]

Though many critics disliked Behn’s work during her lifetime,[1] Aphra Behn today is lauded as one of the most influential women writers. Virginia Woolf, in A Room Of One’s Own stated that all women owe a debt to Aphra Behn, who “earned them the right to speak their minds”.[6] Today, Aphra Behn is credited with being a proto-feminist, and her works are studied as some of the most important works written by women during the time period.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Behn, Aphra (2006). "The Disappointment". In Joseph Black, et al (ed). The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Volume 3 The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. Ontario: Broadview Press. pp. 140–142. 
  2. ^ "The Disappointment" at Poetry Archive.
  3. ^ a b c d Munns, Jessica (1996). "'But the touch were soft': pleasure, power, and impotence in 'The Disappointment' and 'The Golden Age.'". In Janet Todd (ed). Aphra Behn Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 178–196. 
  4. ^ a b Lancashire, Ian (9 September 2002). "Commentary". Representative Poetry Online. University of Toronto Libraries. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  5. ^ Sexton, Timothy (3 January 2008). "The Disappointment: Aphra Behn’s Obsession with Desire, Shame and Honor". Yahoo! Voices. 
  6. ^ Woolf, Virginia (1989). A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 

External links[edit]