Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment for homosexuality,
which in his day was a crime under gross indecency.
his jail term, first at Wandsworth prison and then at Reading, Wilde
underwent a transformation.
indulgent, witty playwright and author was released a broken man,
humiliated and bankrupt.
Ronan McDonald says:"After
his time in jail Wilde was much more serious, much more religious
and there's certainly a strong Christian element to Wilde. But to
some extent that element was always in his work, if you look at
his earlier children stories, The Happy Prince etc, there's a sense
of the redemptive powers of suffering."
Ronan McDonald reads outside Reading Gaol
Reading, Wilde was reduced from a famous highly-acclaimed name down
to a code.
had cell number C33", says Dr McDonald, "which was also
a pseudonym under which the Ballad of Reading Gaol was first published,
he also wrote a number of letters signing them, prisoner C33."
someone of Wilde's temperament, two years hard labour was always
going to be a hard stint.
Ballad of Reading Gaol he talks about suffering as indeed he does
in his other jail publication De Profundis, which is an essay talking
about the time leading up to his imprisonment in the form of a letter
to his long-time lover, Alfred Douglas.
De Profundis he speaks a lot about suffering in truth, he aestheticises
the suffering and turns it into a form of art."
Oscar Wilde memorial Gate behind Reading Gaol
McDonald describes Wilde's time in jail as "a journey",
of the things he always said during his time in jail that he had
always experienced the other side of life - the extreme pleasure,
the indulgence the fame - and that this was the other part of his
tragedy, he saw it as a fall from favour."
France he wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol, which is an elegy for
an executed man, Charles Wooleridge, a guardsman who killed his
wife in a fit of jealousy.
Wilde memorial walk railing with a quote from The Ballad of
was one of the first executions in Reading Gaol for some time, and
it was a very traumatic event during Wilde's time" says Dr
was a very humane, sensitive and imaginative response to this man's
plight and to the brutality of his institutional punishment."
adds: "The Ballad is a poetic meditation on suffering, a spiritual
redemption and a very pungent critique of capital punishment but
also the brutality and the dehumanisation of prison life in the
late Victorian period.
idyllic Oscar Wilde memorial walk can be seen as an ironic tribute
to a man whose time in Reading was mostly traumatic.
says finally:"I think Wilde was someone who always saw the other
side. He spent his life coming up with lots of paradoxes and witty
phrases which turned values on his head. I think he saw his time
in Reading, for all his suffering, as a completion of the tragedy
in his life."