“And I? May I say nothing, my lord?” With these words, Oscar Wilde’s courtroom trials came to a close. The lord in question, High Court justice Sir Alfred Wills, sent Wilde to the cells, 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 aesthete was roundly silenced.
But he did not remain so. 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 an expansive best-selling poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde, Nicholas Frankel collects these and other prison writings, accompanied by historical illustrations and his rich facing-page annotations. As Frankel shows, Wilde experienced prison conditions designed to break even the toughest spirit, and yet his writings from this period display an imaginative and verbal brilliance left largely intact. Wilde also remained politically steadfast, determined that his writings should inspire improvements to Victorian England’s grotesque regimes of punishment. But while his reformist impulse spoke to his moment, Wilde also wrote for eternity.
At once a savage indictment of the society that jailed him and a moving testimony to private sufferings, Wilde’s prison writings—illuminated by Frankel’s extensive notes—reveal a very different man from the famous dandy and aesthete who shocked and amused the English-speaking world.
A welcome gathering of Wilde’s most humane work, with choice illustrations, where the self-proclaimed ‘lord of language’ gives voice to the poor, the disaffected.
Frankel has…done us a favor to annotate such material with such labor and such learning…Wilde comes out of this volume with all his follies flying as an extraordinarily impressive human being.
With headlines of police brutality and judicial immorality as relevant today as back then, creative works which remind audiences of Wilde’s timeless moral principles remain vital.
De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are canonical Victorian literature, and Frankel’s precise and well-informed notes will raise readers’ awareness of Wilde’s thinking on morality, crime, religion, sexuality, aesthetics, and prison reform.
Frankel provides a valuable service in comprehensively editing these works for a fresh generation of readers.
- 408 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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