“The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde” edited by Nicholas Frankel— In His Own Words

Frankel, Nicholas, editor. “The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde”, Harvard University Press, 2018.

In His Own Words

Amos Lassen

High Court justice Sir Alfred Wills, sent Oscar Wilde to jail, sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor for the crime of “gross indecency” with other men. As cries of “shame” emanated from the gallery, the convicted man was silenced. But he was Oscar Wilde and not likely to be silent for long.

Behind bars and in the period immediately after his release, Wilde wrote two of his most powerful works—the long autobiographical letter “De Profundis” and his expansive best-selling poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”. In “The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde”, Nicholas Frankel has collected these and other prison writings, historical illustrations and his rich facing-page annotations. Wilde experienced prison conditions that were designed to break even the toughest spirit, and yet his writings from this period show his imaginative and verbal brilliance was left largely intact. Wilde also remained politically steadfast and determined that his writings should inspire improvements to “Victorian England’s grotesque regimes of punishment.” But Wilde also wrote for eternity. What was a savage indictment of the society that locked him up and a moving testimony to private sufferings, Wilde’s prison writings show us a very different man from the famous dandy and aesthete who shocked and amused the English-speaking world.

Frankel’s notes raise awareness of Wilde’s thoughts about morality, crime, religion, sexuality, aesthetics, and prison reform.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • A Note on the Texts
  • Clemency Petition to the Home Secretary, 2 July 1896
  • De Profundis
  • Letter to the Daily Chronicle, 27 May 1897
  • The Ballad of Reading Gaol
  • Letter to the Daily Chronicle, 23 March 1898
  • Further Reading
  • Illustration Credits


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