Oscar Wilde’s Prison Readings - Celebrating 50 years since the decriminalization of Homosexuality in Canada

Almost 120 years ago, Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for the crime of homosexuality. As little as 50 years ago, members of the LGBTQ+ community would have faced similar persecution, even in Canada.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969.

These two events — the 50 year anniversary of decriminalization and the “round number” of 120 years since Oscar Wilde’s death — prompted Dr. Goran Stanivukovic, Chair of the Department of English Language and Literature, to approach Collections Librarian Sally Wood with an idea: to collect and display in the Patrick Power Library the books that Oscar Wilde requested while in prison.

From Dante and Dickens, to Tennyson and Wordsworth, to German Grammar, Wilde was a prolific reader and writer even during his two-year sentence. Librarian Sally Wood and Dr. Stanivukovic teamed up to plan the display last year, and have been tracking down the books ever since.

Dr. Stanivukovic launched the display on September 12 with opening remarks about Wilde, the significance of the collection, and the context within which Wilde was tried and convicted.

Anthropology Student Jared Blois performed excerpts from Wilde’s prison writings, reading aloud from De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol.