Sunday 20 July 2014

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Picture of Oscar Wilde
The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde, full of his trademark wit with moments of underlying pathos and tragedy. The story begins with an American, Mr Hiram B. Otis, buying a house that the previous owner warns him is haunted. Sir Simon de Canterville murdered his wife around three hundred years ago, and since his death, his ghost has haunted the house. Mr Otis doesn’t heed the warning, stating:
“I reckon that if there was such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.”
Mr Otis lives with his wife and four children. The eldest child is a young man:

“... christened Washington by his parents in a moment of patriotism, which he never ceased to regret.”

He is followed by a sister, Virginia, who is very sweet and kind, and the youngest members of the family are tearaway twin boys.

The Ghost is extremely proud of his track record. The servants are all terrified of him and he has literally scared people to death, driven them mad or caused them to commit suicide. So when this new family moves in he anticipates their fear. The first evidence the family sees of the ghost’s existence is a bloodstain in the spot where he killed his wife. They are told by their housekeeper that if cleaned away the bloodstain returns, but they react to this differently than he’d expected:
“The blood stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed.”
“That is all nonsense,” cried Washington Otis. “Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time.”
Undaunted, the Ghost decides to scare Mr Otis, by clanking his chains in the middle of the night:
“My dear sir,” said Mr Otis. “I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have bought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines.”
The Ghost then attempts to scare the twins and has the indignity of having a pillow thrown at him, which deeply offends him!
“Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted”
He begins to plot his revenge on the family, but gets increasingly frustrated when they refuse to be frightened by him. But then the mood of the story changes, and we find that the ghost has been unable to rest since his death.
“Death must be so beautiful... To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
I had read quite a few of the works of Oscar Wilde but this one had passed me by until recently when it was part of an online course I’ve been doing. I really enjoy Wilde’s facetious humour, and this was no exception, I was chortling away, regardless of the fact that I was reading it in public! I was surprised when the mood of the piece changed, it completely changes tone within a few paragraphs, and becomes almost spiritual, it gave me shivers and almost wrung a tear or two out of me, but as I said I was in public, so any tears were sternly repressed. It’s a pretty short read, took less than 30 minutes, and I’d recommend it, I really enjoyed it. Another bonus is that you can download it free!

4 star read


  1. Oh Ceri, I am sold! What a great review with brilliant excerpts to prove your point. A must read for sure. Oh the public reading lol To use the American term in regards to the course, I feel like a highschool dropout!!!

    1. Thank you Tamara! I am not sure I've done the book justice, couldn't find the words. I think it was ambitious of you to take the course on, I've been behind on it most weeks and you've had more going on than me what with university and holidays and weddings! I've enjoyed it though :)


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