The im­por­tance of be­ing Wilde

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

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.

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