It was thought popular knowledge at the time of Restoration theater that actresses were reputed to be promiscuous (Wiseman 4-7). Likewise, female playwrights shared this reputation. Aphra Behn was the first female playwright considered an "object of fascination" for her purported sexuality, onstage and offstage (Wiseman 4-7).
Her provocative reputation was certainly linked to the female characters she created in her most popular plays. In The Rover, because of the carnival's masquerade, rebellious female characters like Florinda, Valeria, and Hellena are able to pursue their personal sexual desires (51). In Feign'd Curtizans, female protagonists Marcella and Cornelia share a similar trope in their pursuit of sexual pleasure. These racy topics and female characters seemed to augment Behn's reputation as a woman who understood carnal desires.
Rumors circulated about her personal life and Behn herself added to the rumor mill through sensationalist dedications, like the one she gave to Nell Gwyn in The Feign'd Curitizans. Gwyn was a famous actress, made moreso by her public role as the King's mistress (Conway). Behn exalted her personage and therefore, implicated herself in the very public display of approval for another lewd woman. Perhaps because of Behn, future female playwrights like Mary Pix, Susanna Centlivre, and Catharine Trotter would take greater cares to avoid developing a reputation as flagrantly.
The anonymous female playwright Ariadne was perhaps too self conscious of this reputation when she wrote the sanitized, seemingly virtuous comedy She Ventures, And He Wins: In the prologue, she nervously praises the "Incomparable Mrs. Behn" and predicts criticism sarcastically, noting: "I am very sensible of the many nice Judgments I expose my self to." This sensitivity towards reputation seemed to persist in the female writing community.
The corpulent Mary Pix was known for drinking (Lee 42). Nevertheless, she appears to have been a well-liked for her amicable and unaffected mannerism. Her plays, likewise, were widely accepted, and Pix was perhaps the most commercially successful of the female wits (Marsden 130). Another noteworthy reputation was that of Catharine Trotter. She was held in relatively high esteem for not only her intellect but also her appealing physical beauty and polite demeanor. Combined with her exceptional literary talents, she “moved in the best society, and was a frequent and welcome guest in the houses of the rich and great” (Willliams 171). Trotter was known to have a didactic and moralizing style that may have conformed to the public’s desire for morality on the stage at the tail-end of the Restoration. Her reputation continued to flourish as her plays, especially Fatal Friendship, were well-received despite the fact that they did not have very many runs. In fact, the Index to the London Stage, 1660-1800 only has one recorded performance for her The Unhappy Penitent.
However, not all of this “new wave” of women writers sustained positive regard from their contemporaries. Although Mary Delarivier Manley was not a prolific playwright and wrote only four plays, these works attracted attention to her private life due to their vivid representations of female desire without female distress (Marsden 122). Her play, The Royal Mischief, was seen as a blatant depiction of eroticism and female sexuality linked with politics. Not much reliable information survives about Manley’s personal life, but it was certainly subject to much uncharitable speculation. Her tendency toward “unwomanly” political plays later in her career continued to feed her negative public image (Hager 169).