Apparently a writer can write anywhere they happen to be. I came across this trivia I thought I would share about famous writers who wrote from prison. This experience must have inspired them in some way to come up with the following books while incarcerated.
Personally, as a writer, I can see how your mind can go all over the place because my mind does that all the time. But, surprisingly, not all of these works are coming from a dark place, like perhaps you’d expect if you are writing from a dungeon or stone cell looking out through bars. You would be expecting the heart to be full of vengeance, but not so with everybody.
Voltaire spent 11 months jailed in Bastille, Paris, for writing poems against the regent. His epic poem was titled Henriade.
John Bunyan was jailed for 11 years for holding Puritan services which were against the Church of England at the time. While in prison he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, published in London in 1678.
Miguel de Cervantes was jailed in 1597 for deficits as the naval quartermaster. The three months he was incarcerated, he wrote Don Quixote.
John Cleland was jailed in London for debts. A publisher, Drybutter, offered to get him out of prison for 20 guineas, if he would write a pornographic novel, so he wrote Fanny Hill or the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1750.
Adolf Hitler was sentenced to five years in jail in 1923 for organizing the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch (military coup). During the nine months he actually spent incarcerated, he wrote part of Mein Kampf.
Leigh Hunt, a friend of Bryon, Shelly and Keats, was thrown in jail in 1813 for libel. He had written an article in his brother’s London newspaper, The Examiner in which he pointed out that the future King George the IV was “a fat Adonis of 50.” While in prison he edited The Examiner from his jail cell and wrote Feast of the Poets.
Richard Lovelace was jailed in 1642 for presenting a Royalist Petition to the English Parliament. While imprisoned he wrote To Althea from Prison. This work contains the lines “Stone walls do not a prison make/nor iron bars a cage/Minds innocent and quite take/that for a hermitage.”
Karl May was jailed in Germany for fraud and actually spent nine years behind bars where he wrote novels about the American west with never having been there. These books became best-sellers in Germany.
Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested for being a leader in India’s fight for independence. While serving ten years in the British prison he wrote Glimpses of World History.
Marco Polo was captured and imprisoned in 1298. At the time he was a commander in a war between Venice and Genoa. While in jail he dictated: The Travels of Marco Polo to a fellow prisoner who was a scribe.
O Henry (William Sydney Porter) worked as a teller at the First National Bank in Austin TX. In 1898, he was sentenced to a federal prison in Ohio for embezzlement of funds, but, being a model prisoner, he only served three years and three months. While in jail he wrote many short stories, including the Gentle Grafter.
While in the Tower of London for treason in 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote History of the World. He was confined for thirteen years.
Francois Villon, who was sentenced to death for manslaughter, was thrown in the dungeon in France. While there he wrote Grand Testament before being released on general amnesty when King Louis XI came to power. However, he was arrested again for the same charge shortly after. This time he was sentenced to hang, but instead was banished from Paris where he disappeared in 1463.
Oscar Wilde was convicted of homosexuality and spent two years imprisoned. During this time he wrote De Profundis and Apologia and the Ballad of Gaol before being released in 1897.
Other prisoners who were writers include: Roger Bacon, Caryl Chessman, Eldridge Cleaver, William Cobbett, Denis Diderot, Hugh Grotius, Richard Savage and John Selden. It is interesting to note that most of the imprisonment was due to political crimes and there were very few jailed for theft or murder and other charges.
These facts from Books Alive by Vincent Starrett.
was jailed in 1703 for seditious libel. While in Newgate Prison in London, he wrote Hymn to the Pillory.