Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol, his last work for publication in 1898 is known the world over for its insight and telling phrases, such as 'bricks of shame', 'souls in pain' and 'that little tent of blue, that prisoners call the sky'. Possibly the greatest and most influential artistic work in terms of penal reform and conveying to outsiders the soul desolate nature and experience of imprisonment, the ballad crystalises the degradation, isolation, fear, introspection and sense of loss involved.This new book also looks at the ballad from a fresh perspective: that of a serving prison officer who has spent a substantial part of his career inside the very prison that Wilde wrote about - noting on a daily basis connections between its fabric, the prison system and the ballad as well as with the town of Reading. The result is a fine work that casts new light on Wilde's incarceration, suggests a number of fresh explanations for some lines of the ballad and puts forward an until now unpublished explanation as to why Reading was chosen for Wilde. Indicative of this approach, Anthony Stokes explains why even C.3.3 is not what it seems, why certain lines in the ballad have been misunderstood by 'experts' given the context and times.
But Anthony Stoke's book is much more than this. Based on minute research over more than ten years it traces the history of "Reading Gaol" from early times to the present day, dealing with its role as a bridewell, local prison and today one that carries out ground-breaking work with young offenders. There are also chapters on its use as a place of internment for Irish Republicans in the wake of the Easter Rising, as a top secret Correctional Centre for Canadian troops serving in England during World War II, escape attempts, riots and the executions that took place at Reading over the years including during the time when James Marwood (the inventor of the 'long drop') officiated; much of this based on official records and Execution Log. There are also notes on other interesting prisoners ranging from the notorious Reading baby farmer Amelia Dyer to the Hollywood TV and movie actor, Stacey Keach.But above all it is Oscar Wilde and the "Ballad of Reading Goal" that permeate and inform this book as the author seeks to combine information about the prison with frequently telling explanations that all too often converge with the more universal nerve that was touched upon by one of England's greatest creative minds - making "Pit of Shame" a book for every Wilde afficionado, penal reformer and student of English literature.
With a special 16 page collection of illustrations charting life in "Reading Gaol" and of some of its prisoners.