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The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Paperback)
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The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile in Berneval-le-Grand, after his release from Reading Gaol on 19 May 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard labour in prison. During his imprisonment, on Tuesday, 7 July 1896, a hanging took place. Charles Thomas Wooldridge had been a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. He was convicted of cutting the throat of his wife, Laura Ellen, earlier that year at Clewer, near Windsor. He was aged 30 when executed. Wilde wrote the poem in mid-1897 while staying with Robert Ross in Berneval-le-Grand. The poem narrates the execution of Wooldridge; it moves from an objective story-telling to symbolic identification with the prisoners as a whole. No attempt is made to assess the justice of the laws which convicted them, but rather the poem highlights the brutalisation of the punishment that all convicts share. Wilde juxtaposes the executed man and himself with the line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves". Wilde too was separated from his wife and sons. He adopted the proletarian ballad form, and suggested it be published in Reynold's Magazine, "because it circulates widely among the criminal classes - to which I now belong - for once I will be read by my peers - a new experience for me".