The importance of being Wilde
AST month, for the first time in its history, Reading Prison (formerly Reading Gaol), where Oscar Wilde (right) was famously imprisoned, opened to the public. Now, due to popular demand, Artangel’s exhibition ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’, which was only intended to remain in situ until the end of this month, has been extended until December 4.
The popular poet and playwright was sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895—which undoubtedly hastened his death in 1900—for the so-called ‘gross indecency’ of his love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. From his incarceration, Prisoner C. 3. 3. penned De Profundis, an extended letter to Douglas and, shortly after his release, wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which immortalised the brutality of the Victorian penal regime: ‘All that we know who lie in gaol;/is that the wall is strong;/and that each day is like a year;/a year whose days are long.’
For the past few weeks, visitors have been able to see people of note, such
Las Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Patti Smith, read excerpts from both works and upcoming readers include actress Fiona Shaw (December 4).
The National Trust is running guided walking tours of the prison and its former chapel until November 26, there is a lecture tomorrow on Wilde’s trial and another, on November 24, about the prison’s history. Several new works by leading contemporary artists are also exhibited throughout the prison.
Visit www.artangel.org.uk or www. readingarts.com for further information.