Sunday, May 26, 2013

Well Known Writers Of Prison Literature

By Audrey McGuire

Prison literature refers to literature that has been created while the writer is imprisoned. Many works by many famous authors have been produced under these circumstances. The genre lumps together all works produced in this manner, whether fiction or nonfiction.

Among those who have written in jail are Adolf Hitler (who wrote the famous Mein Kampf behind bars), Jeffrey Archer (he wrote a three-volume memoir of his jail time), John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim's Progress), Marquis De Sade (who wrote extensively during an 11 year imprisonment), and Oscar Wilde (who wrote the philosophical De Profundis while imprisoned).

When Hitler's coup (known as the Bier Hall Putsch) failed, he was arrested, finally being sentenced to prison in 1924. During his jail term he wrote his famous book Mein Kampf ("My Struggle" in English). By the time the Second World War finished, 10 million of his books had been sold or otherwise distributed within Germany. Mein Kampf is notorious to this day for its anti-Semitic texts.

John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was first published in 1678, and is considered to be among the most significant works of the English language. Allegorical in style, the book's main characters have names like "Christian", "Evangelist", "Obstinate", "Pliable", "Mr. Worldly Wiseman", and so on. Bunyan himself had been imprisoned many times, and to this day scholars debate over which of his jail terms saw him start the writing of The Pilgrim's Progress.

A present day example of a writer working from a jail cell is provided by Jeffrey Archer, a disgraced politician in the UK, who was locked up after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice and perjury. He published 3 books about his prison experiences, Belmarsh: Hell, Wayland: Purgatory, and North Sea Camp: Heaven. As well as writing while in jail, Archer managed to further profit from his situation by basing characters in his fiction novels on people he had met behind bars. Despite falling foul of the law, Archer has made a fortune from selling over a hundred million books.

Another scandalous author to fall into prison writing was Marquis de Sade. His work was notoriously explicit and shocking, and he was arrested specifically due to two of his books, Justine and Juliette. It is interesting to note that the arrest was ordered by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, who in turn would produce a popular autobiographical work while imprisoned on St. Helena Island. Sade was very active as a writer during his eleven years imprisoned in the Bastille, producing 16 novellas, 11 novels, some 20 works for theater, and 2 volumes of essays, as well as his diary.

Oscar Wilde was also locked away amid sexual scandal. In Wilde's era of the 1800s, men could be jailed for homosexuality, and this is how he came to be imprisoned. While in jail, Wilde wrote a letter some 50,000 words long to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, but kept it when he left prison. The letter was used as the basis for "De Profundis", which was published after Wilde's death. Although the version first published had been edited, a complete and unedited version has since been made public.

As can be seen, the long, unoccupied hours of jail time are at least partially responsible for some truly memorable works throughout history. For the reading public, infamous characters, dramatic injustices and the dark thrills of life "inside", only add to the allure of prison literature.

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