This essay seeks to explore the pivotal role that female rebellion, refusal, and flight played in both the rise of the novel and the rise of modern feminism. To make my case for the ideological and narratological importance of what I am referring to as the “runaway-woman plot,” I concentrate on the early (indeed, to my mind, originary) novelistic writings of Aphra Behn. For even if Behn did not voice her interest in the Rights of Woman as overtly or polemically as did Mary Wollstonecraft in her landmark feminist Vindication, so many of Behn’s narratives hinge upon the question of what their female protagonists are and are not morally, socially, or legally permitted to do—and, more specifically, where their female protagonists are and are not morally, socially, or legally permitted to go—that it is hard not to detect in them a tacit expression of precisely such an interest. In performing close readings of two of Behn’s most complex and perverse runaway-woman narratives, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister (1684-87) and The History of the Nun (1688), this essay recalibrates our sense of Behn’s connection with and contribution to what would come to be called the women’s rights movement.

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