The Canterville Ghost

Topics: The Canterville Ghost, Ghost story, Ghost Pages: 13 (2226 words) Published: June 30, 2015
Oscar Wilde

THE CANTERVILLE
GHOST

"The Canterville Ghost" is a
popular short story by Oscar
Wilde, widely adapted for the
screen and stage. It was the first
of Wilde's stories to be
published, appearing in the
magazine The Court and Society
Review in February 1887. It was
later included in a collection of
short stories entitled Lord
Arthur Savile's Crime and Other
Stories in 1891.

u

üSetting

The story of the Canterville Ghost takes place in
an old English country house, Canterville Chase,
which has all the accoutrements of a traditional
haunted house. Descriptions of the wainscotting,
the library paneled in black oak, and the armor in
the hallway characterize the Gothic setting and
help Wilde clash the Old World with the New.
Typical of the style of the English Decadents, the
gothic atmosphere reveals the author’s
fascination with the macabre. Yet he mixes the
macabre with comedy, juxtaposing devices from
traditional English ghost stories such as creaking
floorboards, clanking chains, and ancient
prophecies with symbols of modern American
consumerism. Wilde’s Gothic setting helps
emphasize the contrast between cultures—setting
modern Americans in what could arguably be a
classic symbol of British history—and underscores
the "modern" thinking of the house's mismatched
residents, the Otises.

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üPlot
The story begins when Mr Otis's family
shifted to Canterville Chase, despite
warnings from Lord Canterville that the
house is haunted. The Otis family includes
Mr. and Mrs. Otis, their daughter Virginia,
twin boys (often referred to as "Stars and
Stripes") and their eldest son Washington.
At first, none of the member of the Otis
family believes in ghosts, but shortly after
they move in, none of them can deny the
presence of Sir Simon (The Ghost). The
family hears clanking chains, they witness
re-appearing bloodstains "on the floor just
by the fireplace", and they see strange
apparitions in various forms. But,
humorously, none of these scare the Otises
in the least. In fact, upon hearing the
clanking noises in the hallway, Mr. Otis
promptly gets out of bed and pragmatically
offers the ghost Tammany Rising Sun

Mr. Otis promptly gets
out of bed and
pragmatically offers the
ghost Tammany Rising
Sun Lubricator to oil his
chains.

Despite Sir Simon’s attempts to
appear in the most gruesome
guises, the family refuses to be
frightened, and Sir Simon feels
increasingly helpless and
humiliated. When Mrs. Otis notices
a mysterious red mark on the
floor, she simply replies that she
does “not at all care for blood
stains in the sitting room.” When
Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper,
informs Mrs. Otis that the blood
stain is indeed evidence of the
ghost and cannot be removed,
Washington Otis, the oldest son,
suggests that the stain will be
removed with Pinkerton’s
Champion Stain Remover and
Paragon Detergent: A quick fix,

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Wilde describes Mrs. Otis as
“a very handsome middleaged woman” who has been
“a celebrated New York
belle.” Her expression of
"modern" American culture
surfaces when she
immediately resorts to using
the commercial stain
remover to obliterate the
bloodstains and when she
expresses an interest in
joining the Psychical Society
to help her understand the
ghost. Mrs. Otis is given
Wilde's highest praise when

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n "He met with a
severe fall" Illustration by
Wallace Goldsmith of
the effects of a butter
slide set up by the
twins as part of their

The most colourful character in the story is
undoubtedly the ghost himself, Sir Simon,
who goes about his duties with theatrical
panache and flair. He assumes a series of
dramatic roles in his failed attempts to
impress and terrify the Otises, making it easy
to imagine him as a comical character in a
stage play. The ghost has the ability to
change forms, so he taps into his repertoire
of tricks. He takes the role of ghostly
apparitions such as a...
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