Oscar Wilde's jail key and letter on display in Malta

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

  • Published
Oscar WildeImage source, Getty Images

The key to Oscar Wilde's cell at Reading Gaol, and a letter he wrote to a newspaper are to be publicly displayed for the first time, in Malta.

The author was imprisoned for two years in 1895 for gross indecency.

The handwritten letter was sent by Wilde to a newspaper in 1894, denying he was the anonymous author of the controversial book The Green Carnation.

Both items are owned by Francis Spiteri Paris, founder of a Maltese estate agency, who collects Wilde artefacts.

They are being put on display among other Wilde-related items in the town of Attard by the Storm Petrel Foundation, a Maltese non-profit voluntary organisation, the Times of Malta reports.

The key was sold in an auction at Sotheby's in December. It opened the door to cell block C, landing 3, cell 3 in Reading Gaol - where Wilde carried out his hard labour sentence.

He was convicted over his homosexual behaviour, considered a crime at that time.

Image source, Storm Petrel
Image caption,
"Sir. Kindly allow me to contradict, in the most emphatic manner, the suggestion, made in your issue of Thursday last, and since then copied into many other newspapers, that I am the author of The Green Carnation. I invented that magnificent flower. But with the middle-class and mediocre book that usurps its strangely beautiful name I have, I need hardly say, nothing whatsoever to do. The Flower is a work of art. The book is not."

The letter on display is the one he wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette on 2 October 1894, to deny claims he had written The Green Carnation, first published anonymously in 1894.

The novel's main characters are closely based on Wilde and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas - the latter of whom the real author, Robert Hichens, knew personally.

The book, which caused a scandal on both sides of the Atlantic, also formed part of the evidence used against Wilde during his prosecution for indecency. A first edition of the novel is included in the Maltese exhibition.

Image source, Storm Petrel Foundation

Mr Spiteri Paris said: "I became obsessed with Oscar Wilde in 1966 when I was on a working trip in the UK and had gone to watch the play An Ideal Husband.

"Since then I must have read every single book about him - I'm fascinated by his genius and complete absence of malice."

The items will be on display until May.