The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol was what had caught my eye at the Special Collections. The fact that Oscar Wilde had not used his real name in publishing his work felt fitting to his situation, and I felt that the book in its entirety was a physical reminder of his time spent in exile. The Ballad of Reading Gaol was first published in 1898 after Wilde’s release from prison in 1897. The book is small and light, with a very simple, neutral coloured cover. Notably the author is stated to be “C.3.3”, and only when the 7th edition was published was it known that “C.3.3” was in fact Oscar Wilde. The inside of the book remains rather simple without images or a specific design. Despite the bland exterior of the book, the content and its context paints an in-depth picture of the meager and depressing penal system through the poetic illustration of the execution of a fellow inmate. The exterior of the book accompanies the dark themes within the book and the structure of the content (one single, long poem) also created the impression of what prison would seem like; long and inexorable. While Oscar Wilde’s poetry is in itself known as a significant work of art, I felt that seeing this book in its fragile and unnoticeable state ironically gave it poetic life.