Historical background

Oscar Wilde's Letter


Oscar Wilde was a Victorian author who wrote stories, poetry and plays. He was sent to prison for being a homosexual, which was illegal at that time. He was held in Wandsworth prison and would have known the same cells, chapel and exercise yard that William had known twenty years earlier.

He was later transfered to Reading and described his prison experiences in his poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" (1898):

'Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity's machine.’

Shortly after his release he wrote a letter to the editor of The Daily Chronicle. It appeared on 28th May 1897. The letter is a passionate outcry about the harsh treatment of small children in prison.

Listen to the letter

This is a recording of an actor reading the letter.

The radio play is divided into separate chapters. You can listen online or download them.

Other ways to experience the letter

You can listen to the audio as one single MP3 file, or download it — just 'right-click' (or 'option-click' on a Mac) the link and choose the 'Save Link As...' option. Alternatively you can look at a transcript.

  • Download the whole recording (mp3)
  • Read a transcript of the whole play

photo of Oscar Wilde, standing in a smart suit, holding silk gloves and a cigarette.

Oscar Wilde had the image of a dandy in Victorian times. He dressed to impress. Here he is wearing a carnation in his buttonhole.

Wilde published novels, plays and poetry. His work includes the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1890) and the plays "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895) and "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895).

(Portrait of Oscar Wilde. By permission of The British Library 10856.dd.15)