June 2, 2023

Foss Presents at The Victorians Institute’s Golden Jubilee Conference

Foss’s Conference Badge

Professor of English Chris Foss presented a paper entitled “‘We are the zanies of sorrow’: Oscar Wilde’s Post-Prison Relationship to Disability” on Saturday, Oct. 15, at The Victorians Institute’s Golden Jubilee Conference in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  In conjunction with the conference theme, Anniversaries and Auguries, Foss’s paper marked the 125th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol upon serving a two-year sentence for crimes of “gross indecency” by exploring Wilde’s relationship to disability in the few years remaining to him.  Most paint this period as merely the pathetic pageant of a broken man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.  What often becomes lost in such a narrative, though, is the extent to which the physical debilitation and psychological distress he endured in prison moved him to reciprocal pity and responsive action in the name of those who have experienced similar difficulties.  Instead of simply wallowing in his own suffering, Wilde demanded justice for vulnerable bodies/minds that places like Reading rendered at risk. Indeed, in all three of the only texts he published after his incarceration (two published letters to the Daily Chronicle on prison reform and in his powerful poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol), Wilde shows himself to be a voice who calls to us from out of the depths of self-reflection to learn with him important lessons about love and kindness, justice and equality.