The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde, from The Old Stile Press (1994)

{Ed. Note: Most of this article, including pictures, is provided by Books and Vines contributor Celtic (Neil).}

Oscar Wilde (1854-1890) was an Irish poet/writer whose works remain immensely popular today. His best known works are The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Importance of Being EarnestLady Windermere’s Fan, SalomeDe Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Wilde’s wit and humor are legendary, as is the controversy surrounding his life.

Statue of Oscar Wilde in Dublin, Photo from Chris Adamson

Wilde was convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years hard labour.  He was incarcerated in Reading Gaol from November 1895 until May 1897. He wrote De Profundis while at the prison and following his release and ‘exile’ to France he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.  The poem was published in 1898 under the name C.3.3., which was his cell number in Reading Gaol – cell block C, landing 3, cell 3.

Wilde dedicated the poem to ‘C.T.W.’.  During his imprisonment a hanging took place on the 7th July 1896.  Charles Thomas Wooldridge had been a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards.  He was convicted of cutting his wife’s throat.  The witnessing of this excecution and the horrific nature of the crime had a profound effect on Wilde, inspiring the line “Yet each man kills the thing he loves.”

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword.

This copy of the The Ballad of Reading Gaol was published by Frances and Nicolas McDowall’s wonderful The Old Stile Press (in Wales) in 1994 and is illlustrated with powerful wood engravings by English artist Garrick Palmer (b.1933). Palmer is one of the pre-eminent wood engravers of our time. He has illustrated many books for fine publishers and his works are included in places such the Tate Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

About the Edition

  • Designed and printed in 1994 by Nicolas McDowall at The Old Stile Press, Catchmays Court, Llandago, near Monmouth, Gwent, Great Britian
  • Garrick Palmer’s wood-engravings were printed from the wood and elements from them were used in the design of the slipcase
  • Bound in parchment with the front cover blind-stamped C.3.3.
  • Printed in Baskerville type (set by Bill Hughes in Upton upon Severn) on Zerkall mould-made paper
  • Binding by The Fine Bindery, Wellingborough
  • 269mm X 164mm, 48pp
  • Limited to 225 copies, numbered and signed by Garrick Palmer

Pictures

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Book in Slipcase
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Cover and Spine
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Cover
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Frontispiece
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Dedication
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Illustration #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Text #1
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #2
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #3
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #4
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Detail of Sample Text #4
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Sample Text #4 (detail)
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Old Stile Press, Colophon

5 thoughts on “The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde, from The Old Stile Press (1994)

  1. see what you mean about the images of crumb. in the sense that each distorts the faces to elicit character traits, each has, in fixing upon disadvantaged persons, brought out some of the commonalities of such lives: pain, brutality, poverty’s deep gouges, resignation to a fate never imagined. and, perhaps here and there, a bit of a flicker of hope – not too bright, yet still there. garrick palmer is one of the brilliant artists of our time who sees into things; he does not paint or engrave surfaces, the external appearance of fields, houses, faces, but delves into the sub-terranean, or at times super-natural, currents that bind us all. one sees this especially in his inimitable landscapes, but experiences it in a different way when looking at his faces: we feel an instant, deep empathy for the lives laid bare.

  2. Superb edition of this work. The woodcut illustrations are powerful and appropriate and I like the giant folio size of the book, which permits an exceptionally generous and spacious layout of Wilde’s poem. Strangely, the woodcuts containing faces are (to me) reminiscent of the very strange but brilliant illustrator and artist R. Crumb.

    This is one of those works that lends itself to numerous private press editions and approaches. Some others that come to mind, in this regard, are: Thoreau’s Walden, Hamlet, Beowulf, Huck Finn, Through The Looking Glass, and just about any religious work (e.g., Ecclesiastes) or any collection of fairy tales and myths & legends.

    This is an example of “too much of a good thing”. Both the Old Stile Press edition and the LEC version are wonderful, but in different ways.

  3. it is nice to see other editions of such classic books. I am at the present time rebinding the LEC version. The LEC original has a classic cover design of a prison wall with a solitary window. I couldn’t duplicate this for any reasonable cost but what I did come up with, you’ll see when I send it to you.

    This is a nice edition, but the illustraions are not for me. The LEC llustrations are by Zhena Gay, the same illustrator who did Confessions…. by de Quincy. Gay did this book in the 30s and drew the prisoners as if they were out of the movie Metropolis, so they are pictured as prisoner automatons as the workers were in this classic art deco movie. Here, the prisoners look like they are more out of Dostoyevsky. To each his own, or so they say.

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