116 years after Oscar Wilde’s death, the prison that housed him opens its doors.
Reading prison is one of the most notorious jails in the world.
Located in Berkshire, England, it was built in 1844 and housed inmates and young offenders all the way until 2013, when it finally closed.
On Sunday, September 4, Reading prison will open its doors to the public to pay tribute to one of its most famous inmates: Oscar Wilde.
Wilde was a writer in the 19th century and is one of the most important voices in literary history. Known for his plays, essays, poems, and novels, such as “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” Wilde also lectured in the United States and Canada and worked as a journalist in London.
In 1895 Wilde wrote “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which many consider his masterpiece.
Shortly after, at the height of his fame, a series of libel accusations between Wilde and Scottish nobleman John Douglas revealed that Wilde had been engaged in romantic relationships with men. And one of those men just happened to be John Douglas’ son.
Wilde was charged with “gross indecency” and months later ended up in Reading prison, where he spent two years in cell C.3.3.
His time there changed him forever. His final piece of writing was “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” a haunting poem about an execution he witnessed while serving his prison sentence. Once a prolific and energetic author, Wilde spent his final years in exile, writing only sparingly.
A few short years after being released from Reading, he died in 1900 at the age of 46.
116 years after Wilde’s death, Reading prison will host an artistic tribute to him called “Inside.”
It’s a one-of-a-kind art exhibition that will feature works from artists like Steve McQueen, Ai Weiwei, and others.
Visual pieces will be on display in the prison cells, and every Sunday, there will be a guest reading of “De Profundis” the 50,000-word letter that Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover while imprisoned.
Ben Wishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Maxine Peake, and Patti Smith have all signed on to read the letter, which takes over four hours.
Wilde certainly wasn’t the only person of his era to be punished by anti-homosexual laws.
In fact, the “indecency” law that put Wilde in prison remained in effect until 1967. It was the same law that sentenced Alan Turing to chemical castration in 1952 not to mention the thousands of others history has forgotten.
“Inside” will be as much about remembering the life and career of Oscar Wilde as it will be about acknowledging the events that led to his decline and death.
Just like Turing, Wilde made incredible contributions to culture that still move us and affect us today. Yet, he died in a world that disgraced him for who he loved and who he was.
The exhibition will run for two months.
Even if you can’t attend in person, it’s worth remembering this piece of history. It’s what allows us to keep moving further and further away from it, into a future where people are celebrated and accepted for who they love, not punished for it.