Composed “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

Despite the financial and emotional turmoil of prison, Wilde composed “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” upon his release. It was originally published by Leonard Smithers under Wilde's prison identification and cell number, C.3-3. Smithers was notably Wilde's publisher of choice; he gained a reputation for publishing for Decadents and upscale pornography. The poem condemns late-Victorian prison life, the prison system, and capital punishment (death penalty). Wilde was subject to a poor diet, enforced silence, and enslaved labor. All of these hardships subjected him to deep thoughts on universal human nature and morality, which he wrote about in the poem as well; therefore, it is often considered to be an indictment and a revelation.


Harrington, Peter. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. By C.3.3.

Nelson, James G. “Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson By James G. Nelson.” The Pennsylvania State University Press, Penn State University Press,

“Oscar Wilde.” Broadview Anthology of British Literature, third ed., B, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ontario, 2019, pp. 1157–1159.

Rumens, Carol. “Poem of the Week: The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 Mar. 2009,

Associated Place(s)