5 Books That Were Written In Prison

Books That Were Written In Prison

Photo: Mariam Kanchaveli

Books are an integral part of our lives. For writers, a source of inspiration is one of the essential aspects of the writing process. Curiously, over the course of history many people have found writing inspiration in prisons and have channeled negative emotions into this creative activity. Here are 5 books that were written in prison and have since garnered wide interest. 

Don Quixote

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is a vivid portrayal of Cervantes’ Spain. The novel is full of universal wisdom and its philosophical ideas are often expressed humorously. The Spanish writer was imprisoned in 1597 and felt the desire to start writing in his prison cell. Part 1 of Don Quixote was published in 1605. The imprisonment turned out to be an interesting experience for Cervantes, since it laid the foundation for a world-famous novel. In 2002, 100 writers from 66 countries were invited to Norway to vote for the book that made the greatest contribution to humanity. Don Quixote won the poll. 

Book of the Marvels of the World

Book of the Marvels of the World was written from stories told by Italian explorer  Marco Polo, who traveled extensively. Once, after returning from his trip to China, he joined the army and was captured by the enemy. In prison, he met a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, who wrote chivalric romance. Marco Polo told him about his travels to exotic lands and Rustichello wrote them down in what became Book of the Marvels of the World. The original manuscript hasn’t survived. However, the book, thanks to the many copies, was not lost and continues to dazzle readers today. Book of the Marvels of the World, which describes the characteristics of many countries, has had a particularly great impact on travelers, cartographers, and writers. Even though the book was written in the middle ages, it is still influential today.

 Conversations with Myself

Conversations With Myself was written by Nelson Mandela, the first president of the Republic of South Africa. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his political beliefs. The book is a collection of works, many of which were written during his imprisonment. Conversations with Myself is an inspiration for people who want to fight against injustice or those who need reassurance not to abandon their ideals. This book is a reminder that no matter the circumstances, one can always write. 

De Profundis  

De Profundis, written by Oscar Wilde in 1897, is one of the longest letters ever written. Wilde’s time in prison was marked with manual labor, isolation, and constant surveillance. However, he was still allowed to write, because the warden decided it would be therapeutic for him. Wilde had to hand over his writings daily and was not allowed to revise or read them over until he was released right before his death. The book is dedicated to his lover, Alfred Douglas and recounts their relationship and its consequences. In modern times, when people still have to fight for their basic rights, De Profundis remains relevant.  

The 120 Days of Sodom

The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage is known as the dirtiest novel in history. It was written by Marquis de Sade in 1785 in 37 days while he was imprisoned in the Bastille. Hidden in the walls of his cell, the manuscript survived the Storming of the Bastille and was published in 1904. The novel tells the story of four libertines who try to derive sexual pleasure through various means. 


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