The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Short Story
Oscar Wilde, the renowned Irish playwright and author, is celebrated for his witty and satirical works that have left an indelible mark on literature. His literary contributions continue to captivate readers, and one of his enduring classics is “The Canterville Ghost.” It is first published in 1887, then anthologized in his collection Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories in 1891. In this blog post, we embark on a journey to explore the delightful world of Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost.” This satirical take on the traditional ghost story combines humor, supernatural elements, and keen social commentary, making it a timeless literary gem.
1. The Canterville Ghost Synopsis
“The Canterville Ghost” introduces us to the Otis family, an American clan known for their practical and no-nonsense approach to life. When they purchase Canterville Chase, an English countryside mansion, they are unfazed by the house’s haunted reputation. Little do they know that the ghostly inhabitant, Sir Simon de Canterville, is in for a surprise as he attempts to scare them away.
The plot revolves around the hilarious and futile attempts of Sir Simon to frighten the Otis family, who respond to his ghostly antics with pragmatism and modern technology. This clash of Old and New World values sets the stage for a delightful tale filled with humor, irony, and unexpected twists.
2. The Canterville Ghost Summary
Mr. Hiram B. Otis purchases Canterville Chase, a haunted house. Lord Canterville warns him of the ghost’s presence. The Otis family, practical Americans, moves in. They discover a bloodstain attributed to Lady Eleanore de Canterville’s murder by Sir Simon. Washington Otis attempts to clean it. A thunderstorm and lightning occur, shocking Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper.
Despite Mrs. Umney’s warnings, the Otis family remains unafraid of ghosts. Mr. Otis dismisses supernatural fears, embracing American practicality.
The stormy nights at Canterville Chase are followed by mysterious bloodstains. The Otis family, initially skeptical of ghosts, begins to suspect a supernatural presence. On the third night, they hear strange noises and footsteps. Mr. Otis confronts a terrifying ghost with lubricant, but the ghost escapes through the walls. In a secret chamber, the ghost contemplates his past frightening exploits and decides to seek vengeance.
The Otis family discusses the ghost but is annoyed that their gift of lubricant was not accepted. They observe the recurring bloodstain in the library, which changes color. The ghost reappears, attempts to frighten, and fails. The ghost then plans to terrify the family, especially the twins, but ends up terrified himself by a fake ghost in the form of a bed curtain and various household items. The ghost swears an oath of revenge but fails to follow through, waiting for a crowing cock that never comes, eventually retiring to a coffin.
The ghost becomes weak and decides to give up on the blood-stain in the library. He focuses on haunting the family instead but faces humiliation from pranks by the twins. His attempts to scare them fail, and he takes on various roles, including “Reckless Rupert,” but is repeatedly foiled. He finally plans to haunt the young Duke of Cheshire but doesn’t follow through, leading everyone to believe he’s gone.
Virginia and her riding companion encounter the Canterville Ghost in the Tapestry Chamber. She expresses pity for him and offers a sandwich, but they argue about his past misdeeds. The ghost shares his longing for death, and Virginia, moved by compassion, agrees to help him find peace. He tells her about an old prophecy and asks her to pray for him. Virginia agrees and, despite warnings from supernatural forces, follows the ghost into a mysterious portal in the wall of the room.
Virginia goes missing, causing panic in the Otis household. They search for her, and even investigate a group of gipsies, but find no trace. Mr. Otis sends for detectives and the family is in distress. Suddenly, Virginia reappears, explaining that she had been with the ghost. She leads them to a secret room where they discover the Canterville Ghost’s skeletal remains, and Virginia prays for him. As they witness an almond tree blossom outside, they believe that God has forgiven the ghost, and Virginia is hailed as an angel.
A funeral is held for Sir Simon, and Virginia places flowers on his grave. Lord Canterville respects Virginia’s right to keep the jewels the ghost gave her. Later, Virginia marries the Duke of Cheshire, and they visit the churchyard. There, the Duke asks about her experience with the ghost, but Virginia keeps it a secret, revealing her deep understanding of life, death, and love. The Duke respects her choice.
3. A Tale of Satire and the Supernatural
Oscar Wilde’s genius shines through in “The Canterville Ghost” as he masterfully blends the supernatural with biting satire. Unlike conventional ghost stories that aim to terrify, Wilde uses humor and wit to subvert the genre’s expectations. Instead of spine-chilling horror, readers are treated to a delightful exploration of the absurdity of ghostly hauntings.
Wilde’s satirical approach extends to the portrayal of Sir Simon, the ghostly protagonist. Rather than being a menacing specter, Sir Simon becomes a sympathetic figure as he faces the modern world’s indifference and practicality. Wilde’s active voice and witty narrative style turn a potentially grim story into a comedy of errors, where the ghost becomes the victim of circumstance.
4. Character Analysis
The characters in “The Canterville Ghost” are as diverse as they are entertaining. The Otis family, including Mr. and Mrs. Otis and their four children, bring a sense of American pragmatism to the story. They approach the supernatural with skepticism and are unimpressed by Sir Simon’s haunting efforts. Their refusal to conform to traditional ghost story tropes adds depth to the narrative.
On the other side of the spectrum is Sir Simon de Canterville, the ghost with a centuries-old reputation. His character undergoes a transformation as he grapples with the Otis family’s unconventional response to his hauntings. Wilde’s character development is remarkable, as Sir Simon evolves from a fearsome ghost to a figure who elicits sympathy and even admiration from readers.
5. Themes Explored
“The Canterville Ghost” is rich with themes that transcend the boundaries of time and culture. One of the central themes is the clash between Old World values and New World pragmatism. The Otis family, representing American ideals, approaches the supernatural with a rational and modern outlook, highlighting the shift in societal values during the 19th century.
Wilde also uses humor and satire to explore the theme of materialism. The Otis family’s lack of fear and their ability to purchase Sir Simon’s ancestral home emphasize the idea that material wealth often triumphs over tradition and history.
Furthermore, “The Canterville Ghost” delves into the concept of empathy and the transformative power of human connection. Through the interactions between the ghost and the Otis family, Wilde underscores the importance of understanding and compassion in bridging the gap between the living and the spectral.
6. Enduring Relevance
What makes “The Canterville Ghost” a timeless classic is its enduring relevance. Despite being written in the late 19th century, the story’s themes continue to resonate in the modern world. The clash of values between tradition and progress, the prevalence of materialism, and the importance of empathy and understanding are issues that still occupy our cultural discourse today.
Wilde’s masterful use of satire and humor allows the story to transcend its historical context, making it a universal exploration of human behavior and societal norms. This enduring relevance ensures that “The Canterville Ghost” remains a compelling and enjoyable read for generations of readers.
7. Conclusion: A Timeless Gem
In the realm of literature, ‘The Canterville Ghost’ stands as a testament to Oscar Wilde’s unparalleled wit and satirical brilliance. It offers readers a refreshing take on the ghost story genre while delving into profound themes that remain relevant today. Wilde’s active voice and sharp narrative make this novella a timeless gem that continues to charm and amuse readers across generations.
As we delve into the pages of ‘The Canterville Ghost,’ we are reminded of the enduring power of humor and satire to captivate, enlighten, and entertain. Oscar Wilde’s legacy endures, and his novella remains an essential read for those who appreciate the art of wit and the joy of a good laugh.