5 Great Books Written in Prison

When we imagine how our favourite authors penned their greatest masterpieces, we often wonder about where they were. Did they seek solitude in a log cabin in the woods, or did they prefer the buzz of their local pub or coffee shop? Did they travel far and wide, or chain themselves to the desk at home?

Many of these authors, however, didn’t have a choice of writing venue; they were imprisoned. Whether they were prisoners of war or prey to injustice, many great works have been produced within the four walls of confinement. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but on this World Book Day, we explore what happens when the pen becomes the only connection with the outside world.


1. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

Image for Consolation of Philosophy

Written by Boethius while he was still in prison for plotting against the Gothic rule, The Consolation of Philosophy is a story emanating questions of grave importance. It was written during one year of Boethius’ imprisonment, served while awaiting trial for the crime of treason under King Theodoric. Themes like that of the Wheel of Fortune, Fate, Philosophy and Eternal truth as well as highest order of self-actualisation have been explored within its folds. The book was a source of inspiration for many philosophers like Dante and Chaucer; many readers have also deemed it as the most pivotal book in the intellectual development of Christianity, which started with St Augustine, but eventually led here.


2. The Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi


A simple and spontaneously written book, My Experiments With Truth accounts Mahatma Gandhi’s life and his contribution to the struggle for independence. Gandhi wrote this book in 1932, while serving time in Yerwada jail in Pune. What makes this book great is the fact that Gandhi did not use jargons or big phrases, but simply autobiographically narrated his life through the course of five major volumes, giving truthful insights. Gandhi believes that truth can be attained only through experimenting and through learning from the ups and downs of life. It is an astute read for people of all ages but should be examined closely by students in order to deepen their understanding of self.


3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes


Cervantes’ Don Quixote is a book that inspired almost every literary movement during the 18th century. It can be said to be an allegory for themes like that or Christianity, Romanticism embedded in cult artists and alike. Even 400 years after its initial publication, Don Quixote holds both relevance as well as importance. Captured by the Turks in 1575, Cervantes wrote this book while spending. It is a cautionary tale about the perils of idealism. The phrase ‘ahead of its time’ is a cliché, but no better phrase comes to mind while describing this cautionary tale about the perils of idealism. This book is considered one of the most influential works of literature in the Spanish literary canon.


4. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet


The story chronicles the experiences of Divine, a recently deceased drag queen, recounting her journeys through Paris’ colourful homosexual underworld. Jean Genet’s debut novel, Our Lady of the Flowers is considered to be his finest fictional work. Genet deserted the French Army in 1936, after which he was tried as a deserter and imprisoned in the military prison. The first draft was initially destroyed by prison officials. Genet reproduced this novel in a dire attempt to bare the torturous isolations that he faced by building his own fictional controllable world. It is a novel that combines facts, memories, fantasies, irrational dreams as well as philosophical insights. The power of community and ethics that are bound up in aesthetically as well as theoretically in terms of homosexuality in Our Lady of the Flowers.


5. Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela


The most famous political prisoner in the world in his time, Nelson Mandela accounts personal intimate details through 27 years of imprisonment—from 1963 to 1990—in his book Conversations with Myself. The book includes diary notes and letters he wished to convey while he was isolated from the world in prison. This book is raw and fresh, told in real time; it seems as if one is having an intimate personal conversation with Mandela himself. Painful and personal issues are dealt with great sensitivity allowing the readers to explore new aspects and facets of the legend’s life. This book truly offers an unprecedented insight into the life of Nelson Mandela.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 1, 2017

    [Dr] Dilip Majumdar

    Selection abrupt. To my opinion you should be more judicious.Synopsis needs more.

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