Guarded Words: Writing from Prison: England, France, Russia by Eric de Bellaigue
In Guarded Words Eric de Bellaigue has attempted to answer questions inspired by his reading of Isaac D'Israeli's short essay 'Imprisonment of Learned', from that author's Curiosities of Literature. He asks: 'Can prison writing lay claim to a distinctive chapter in histories of literature? Is there a thread linking prisoners' output across the centuries? Can confinement provide the ideal environment for literary creativity? Is there common ground among the subjects treated? Alternatively, does diversity ride rough-shod over the shared experiences of imprisonment?' The author's Preface explains the self-imposed restrictions that have determined his choice of writers and how the sequence of chapters has largely been governed by geography and chronology. The main sections of the book are: Incarceration in England; Incarceration in France; Incarceration in Russia; Convicted Murderers. Texts need to have been composed within the prisons themselves, and memoirs written after release have been excluded. With three exceptions the writings are in English or French with the year 1500 as a starting point. The writers who make their appearance here are a mixed bag. Where common ground is apparent it is at the personal level, notably in the causes of imprisonment which include: * For religious views: John Bunyan; Clement Marot; Anne Askew; Thomas More; John Hart. * For reasons of State: Walter Ralegh; William Prynne; Antoine Lavoisier; Madame Roland; Andre Chenier; Jean-Antoine Roucher; the Earl of Surrey; Charles I ; Richard Lovelace. * As victims of civil action: William Combe; Theodore von Neuhoff, King of Corsica; Mirabeau; Voltaire. * For Murder: Pierre Francois Lacenaire; William Chester Minor. * For dissidence in Russia: Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Lev Mishchenko ; Irina Ratushinskaya. An appendix, 'Snapshots of Prison Writing', provides short notes about each writer. There are also textual notes, a bibliography and an index. Illustrations: approximately 30 b&w illustrations of writers and the places where they were incarcerated.