Stars take over Reading Jail to celebrate Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde Source: National Portrait Gallery by Napoleon Sarony albumen panel card,1882 Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

Reading Jail is not normally a top spot for day out but head there this September and October and you could bump into Ralph Fiennes or Jeannette Winterson and or see new artworks by Steve McQueen, Nan Goldin or Marlene Dumas in the corridors and empty cells.

Stars of the stage are screen have been lined up to read the entirety of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, which was written while the writer and wit was imprisoned at the jail 1895-97, and the artists commissioned to respond to his work as part of a two-month takeover of the now-closed jail by Artangel.

Oscar Wilde, Reading Jail
Photographs of prisoners in Reading Gaol before their discharge or transfer Credit: Berkshire Record Office


Every Sunday at noon in the prison chapel, a stellar writer or performer will read De Profundis, the extended letter Wilde wrote to his lover, “Bosie” – Lord Alfred Douglas. It was written in his cell when, after a year, he was finally given access to pen and paper.

Wilde was imprisoned at the height of his fame after suing Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, setting in motion events that resulted in him being jailed for two years with hard labour. His time at Reading Jail – a particularly brutal place – were harrowing and resulted in his famous Ballard of Reading Goal, written on his release. Wilde died in 1900, aged only 46.

It is the first time the jail has been open to the public and visitors will be able to wander through the cells including Wilde’s own and hear readings of his letters and works.

Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison runs from 4 September to 30 October


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