Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Battle for Reading Gaol

The historic prison that once housed Oscar Wilde is scheduled to close today. Students of Victorian literature will forever remember the name of the place. Wilde made it the subject of his Ballad of Reading Gaol. The Oscar Wilde Society wants to save Reading Gaol. While I’m a lover of history and an admirer of the Oscar Wilde Society, I’m not sure I would like Reading Gaol to remain standing.

Wilde served two years hard labour there in the 1890s, after being found guilty of gross indecency for his relationship with Alfred Douglas. To me, this marks Reading Gaol as a historic sight of injustice and I believe there are too many of these sites in the history of homophobia already.

I do not mean to say that we should forget history that unsettles us, but I would like landmarks to lead us toward a brighter future, while celebrating the triumphs of the oppressed against certain hardship. Moreover, I can’t imagine Oscar Wilde would want that prison left standing.

I never saw a man who looked 
With such a wistful eye 
Upon that little tent of blue 
Which prisoners call the sky, 
And at every drifting cloud that went 
With sails of silver by. 

I walked, with other souls in pain, 
Within another ring, 
And was wondering if the man had done 
A great or little thing, 
When a voice behind me whispered low, 
"That fellows got to swing." 

Dear Christ! the very prison walls 
Suddenly seemed to reel, 
And the sky above my head became 
Like a casque of scorching steel; 
And, though I was a soul in pain, 
My pain I could not feel. 
- Oscar Wilde from the Ballad of Reading Gaol

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