From the Wilde Side: Inside Reading Gaol

For the first time ever, Reading Gaol has been opened to the public, particularly poignant as it coincides with a magnificent Artangel – Inside: Writers and Artists in Reading Prison, an exhibition of new works that have been created in response to the prison’s architecture and history. Leading artists, writers and filmmakers that include Steve McQueen, Marlene Dumas, Nan Goldin, Robert Gober, Jeannette Winterson and many more have produced work that has been installed in the prison cells, wings and corridors.


At last I saw the shadowed bars

Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

God’s dreadful dawn was red.

From ‘The Ballad of Reading Goal’ by Oscar Wilde.

I have to admit, it was a spine-tingling moment to stand in Prison Cell C.2.2. – no matter how much it might have changed (or not!) over the years since 1897 when Wilde was released from his two-year sentence. I also still find it difficult to believe that the prison was only closed in 2013!

For much of his time there, Oscar was not even allowed to write, but with a change of Governor, was eventually given access to enough paper to complete De Profundis, a letter written to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

“Inside the great prison where I was then incarcerated, I was merely the figure and the letter of a little cell in a long gallery, one of a thousand lifeless numbers, as of a thousand lifeless lives.”

From De Profundis, 1897. Oscar Wilde.

The current exhibition provides audio recordings of De Profundis from Colm Tóibín, Patti Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Neil Bartlett, Kathryn Hunter and many more.


The books that Oscar requested and was eventually allowed to have in his cell. He deliberately avoided asking for any titles that might have been viewed as contentious.

You can check out further details of the ‘Artangel’ Exhibition HERE

The Fantasy Dinner Party Question…

So, for my Irish Women in Film Series, I’ve been asking the featured ladies to name six guests that they would invite to their fantasy dinner party. Why? Because it’s fun, but also because their choices can give us an insight into a person’s influences.

I’ve had a few queries since as to what my fantasy dinner party guest list would look like, and it’s a lot more difficult than you might think to narrow it down…to make it easier, I’ve eliminated anyone still living, as, life is funny that way, and you never know who you might meet!!

So from Rock and Roll Heaven, Marc Bolan, Elvis, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain. Phil Lynott and Jim Morrison will have to go on the reserve list, I’m afraid, and from the film gang, Montgomery Clift, Brando, Dean, River Pheonix, Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman...

Of the ones I have picked, I would expect each of my fantasy guests to bring a few of their own fantasy guests in for the after dinner drinkies…so long as they each bring a bottle!

It’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to…

So here goes…

Ella Fitzgerald. Well if you are going to have a singer at your party, make sure you invite the best! And she could always bring Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra along!

Countess Markievicz…because I want her inside story on the 1916 Rebellion, and I would fully expect Pearse, Connolly and the gang to gatecrash!

Robert Mitchum. Bad boy Number One! ‘Night of the Hunter’ and ‘Cape Fear’…need I say more?

Bette Davis…from the moment I saw ‘Jezebel’ when I was nine years old, I have been fascinated by her…what a woman, what a life, what a career!

Oscar Wilde…because I would imagine that he has GOT to be the best conversationalist ever to grace this planet…a man before his time! And he could bring along Sheridan le Fanu, and his old rival in love, Bram Stoker…Wilde dated Stoker’s future wife, Florence…now there’s a story!

John Cassevetes. Such an interesting and complex man, a pioneer in the world of independent  film making…I could learn a thing or two from him! And, er, Falk, Gazzara and Rowlands would be very welcome too!

Quite a frustrating exercise overall, so many influential peeps, so little dream time!!

And who would be on yours???

Featured Image: Copyright Errol Farrell. 2012