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The canterville ghost review

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The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde. Like many works of literature, the story first appeared in a magazine, The Court and Society Review in February 1887. When the story starts, the American minister, Mr Hiram B. Otis has purchased Canterville Chase, an English country house. Otis is warned by Lord Canterville that the house is haunted, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts.
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Washington applies some strong stain remover – Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent – to the blood stain, which disappears temporarily and reappears the next day. As soon as they remove the stain it reappears the following day – bright red, dull red, purple and even bright emerald green.The Otis family consists of husband and wife, their eldest son, Washington, daughter Virginia and twin sons. Shortly after the Otis family arrives at their new country estate, they notice a spot on the floor in the library. Their housekeeper informs them that Lady Eleanore de Canterville was murdered at that exact spot by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, who survived her by nine years. His body was never discovered, however, his spirit haunts the place.
After the blood stain reappears the first time, the Otis family concludes that there must be a ghost. Mrs Otis is a modern day woman and declares that she is going to join the Psychical Society. Washington decides to write to Messrs Myers and Podmore, “on the subject of the Permanence of Sanguineous Stains when connected with crime.”
To get the most from this SummaReview of The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, after you have read it, answer the following questions:
  1. Is this a book I’d like to read for myself? Why? Why not?
  2. What has made an impression on me in this reading?
  3. Were there any kernels of wisdom in this reading?
  4. Is there a framework that you can use in your life and work?
  5. What are five takeaways from the SummaReview?
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde is told through the eyes of the very theatrical ghost, Sir Simon, who appears in many different costumes and personas – Red Reuben, Strangled Babe, Dumb Daniel, Suicide’s Skeleton, Martin the Maniac, Masked Mystery, Reckless Rupert, Headless Earl and so on. The first night, Sir Simon decides to haunt the Americans, Mr Otis greets him with a container of Rising Sun Lubricator for him to oil his manacled chains so he doesn’t make so much noise and disturb the family’s sleep. The twin boys also throw a pillow at him.
The ghost quickly retreats to his hiding place and is feeling quite insulted. Never in his three hundred years of haunting people at Canterville Chase has he ever received that kind of reception. The tables have been turned on the ghost, and instead of he terrifying the residents, they instead “terrify” him. The twins use their pea shooters and discharge pellets at Sir Simon. One night after he attempts to frighten the family with one of his terrible laughs, Mrs. Otis lets him know that he sounds quite terrible and offers him a bottle of Doctor Dobell’s tincture.
Sir Simon suffers great indignities at the hand of the American family, who are not afraid of him. He enters the twins’ room to scare them and a large jug of water falls on him, which just about does him in. He has a grand plot to exact revenge against Washington whom he bears a special grudge for removing the blood stain with Pinkerton’s Paragon Detergent. But once again, the joke is on Sir Simon, when he encounters, what he perceives as another. The ghost has never seen another ghost and is quite terrified, and flees to his room. When he regains his composure and courage, Sir Simon seeks out the ghost to form some sort of alliance. He discovers to his chagrin, that the ghost wasn’t a real ghost. In another instance, Washington and the twins force him into the great iron oven, which luckily wasn’t lit at the time, forcing Sir Simon to escape through chimneys
Sir Simon’s nerves begin to unravel because nothing is working and he is becoming quite weak. He even decides not to bother with replacing the stain on the floor in the library. He doesn’t think very highly of the Otis family “They were evidently people on a low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena. The question of phantasmic apparitions, and the development of astral bodies, was of course quite a different matter, and not really under his control…”
The ghost resigns to the fact that he will not be able to frighten the “rude” American family. The twins lay in wait for Sir Simon on several occasions laying traps for him but he never appears. The family concludes that the ghost has left Canterville Chase. All during this time, Virginia was the only one in the family that did not play a trick on, or even approach the ghost. Why?
One day while out riding, Virginia tears her riding habit quite badly and decides to enter Canterville Chase through a back door. She is surprised to discover the Canterville Ghost sitting by a window. His disposition is that of someone suffering from depression and she feels sorry for him. An interesting dialogue takes place between them and during that time, he admits that he killed his why and why, and Virginia tells him that it is wrong to kill. She is also upset because he stole her paint to replace the blood stain and hence the mystery of the different colours of “blood” is solved.
Virginia tries to convince Sir Simon to go to America because they would appreciate a ghost there, but he doesn’t want to go to America. Sir Simon is weary because he hasn’t slept in over three hundred years. He wants rest, but is terrified of the Garden of Death. He believes that through Virginia he will receive forgiveness and allowed to rest. He believes that through the purity of a child, Hell cannot prevail.
She takes him through the portal, and doesn’t tell her parents, so when they cannot find her they panic. But no one even thinks about Sir Simon, because they believed he had left. Virginia appears the next day after her family had searched for her everywhere and couldn’t find her. She relates what happens and shows them the gift of jewels she received from Sir Simon. Mr Otis tries to return the jewels to Lord Canteville who refuses them and is convinced that should he take them, Sir Simon would return.
The story ends when Virginia is married a few years later, and you get the sense that something profound took place with her encounter with Sir Simon that she has never revealed.
I found this story quite funny and I laughed a lot. But when you stop to think, this is a story of contrasts. Think about it, an American family emigrates to England and buys a very English country home. Though they are warned that the house is haunted, they initially do not believe. However, when they realize that the house is indeed haunted, they do not respond in a “British” way by being scared, they turn things around on the ghost baffling him. You see the ghost going through a range of emotions until he is a broken man. It’s a story of role reversals, instead of the ghost terrorizing the residents of Canterville Chase, they terrorize him instead.
I recommend The Canterville Ghost: By Oscar Wilde. The book is an easy read and can be read in a couple of hours. Many of the film adaptations of The Canterville Ghost are not close to the book. This version with Patrick Stewart and Neva Campbell (The Canterville Ghost) is closer than others, though you shouldn’t watch the film in lieu of reading the book. I found reading the book far more delightful than watching the film.
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  1. The original Wilde Thing does it again... does one not love on Oscar Wilde when he's throwing down the this case, and in proper British fashion, against cocky, adolescent-cultured Americans and their starched-lip, tradition-trapped English cousins?

    A bounty of clever from start to finish, Wilde's tale is charming, engaging and pitch-perfect.

    For a story less than 30 pages long, Wilde accomplishes so much, using scalpel-like precision in both his language and his plotting to tell a story with a little bit of everything. The funny is considerable, the sadness and softer emotions are amply represented, and the brilliance is ubiquitous throughout. My sole complaint is that I wish it were a bit longer, as I would have loved for Wilde to give himself more time with these people and this setting.

    Briefly, since this is a short story…

    A family of flag-flaunting United Staters acquire an historic English mansion from the thoroughly prim, thoroughly British Lord Canterville. Throw in a murderous, aesthetically-minded ghost with a penchant for high drama and theater, and you have a classic, joy-inducing tale of clashing cultures, progress vs. tradition, and Wilde’s self-mockery of his own philosophy of decadent aestheticism.

    And….as an added bonus that few beyond Wilde could have accomplished in this setting, you also have subtler themes of a deeper nature running through the narrative, such as penance, forgiveness, and redemption.
    I just wish it had been longer and the story had had a little more time to breathe. I can’t wait to read more of his work.


  2. I bet C.S. Lewis read this as a child.
    While reading this fun tale, I couldn't help thinking that it might have provided C.S. Lewis with inspiration for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It isn't at all difficult to imagine the kind hearted Virginia as a Lucy prototype, and the naughty Canterville ghost as a precursor to Mr. Tumnus.

    Since this was written by Oscar Wilde, it is chock full of snark. I found it interesting that the blurb mentions that this story is a commentary on the British nobility of his time. IMO, the jokes at the expense of Americans are just as amusing. During Wilde's 1882 visit to America, he surely did notice things like our penchant for household products with catchy names, and our annoying tendency to 'help' people, whether or not they wish to be helped.

    P.S. For history buffs: The touching up of the blood stain on the floor in this tale reminded me of how the servants in Holyrood Palace used to 'embellish' the spot where Mary Queen of Scots' private secretary, David Rizzio, was stabbed to death by Darnley and his noble cohorts. Apparently, after that incident, when the royals were away, enterprising servants would make an extra pence or two by leading unauthorized tours to see the 'bloody' floorboards. Nowadays, authorized tours are available.

  3. Paquita Maria SanchezOctober 13, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    Americans are brash, tacky, shallow, pompous, and they really, really like to talk about products and shop for products and use products. Odd theme for a scary tale, right? Well, it so happens that it fits quite nicely in the ghost story format. And this is not the only time this has happened.

    You may not realize it, but I assure you that you already know the general plot and tone of this story: Biiiiiig city Americans (New Yorkers, in fact) move into a somewhat worn-down but charming estate in the English countryside which is haunted by a guy and his wife who murdered his wife, and all kinds of darkly humorous shenanigans ensue as this ghost attempts to chase the stubborn, pretentious New Yorkers from his home (in a town called Winter River? No, wait, it's England...okay, I’m confused). Twisting and distorting his body in graphically violent ways, wearing any number of "spooky" costumes, moaning and groaning throughout the house at night, and attempting to fake his own gory death in front of one of the children (I am not making this up) are all to no avail, and only add to the ghost’s frustration at his inability to frighten the unwelcome guests.

    Initially, the family doesn’t buy the whole “ghost” business, anyhow. However, once they come face-to-face with the most meagerly unexplainable phenomena, they quickly assume the stance of “oh, yes, ghosts, naturally” and barely bat an eyelash from then on. Rather than feeling fear or fascination, they quickly disregard the ghost as nothing more than a pest, and try to offer him American products like fancy oils to make his chains stop rattling and special cleaners to remove the blood that he is constantly re-staining the floor with. The youngest children find great pleasure in torturing him in numerous ways that slowly eat away at his self-confidence. The interplay of an increasingly impotent and indignant ghost with not one, but two Macaulay Culkin-esque* beast-children constantly tormenting it with Home Alone and Dennis the Menace-like tricks and traps, and the vain, materialistic parents constantly shoving their modernity down his throat are where the comedic tone of this "horror" story really work best. Fortunately for this sad bastard spirit, the family contains an open-minded and kind-hearted teenage daughter (yes, seriously) who understands the ghost in ways that her family never could, and therefore wants to help him out. This is where the plot veers off from Burton, and this is where I must leave you. To maintain an aura of mystery around this story, let's just say that she gets an A on the big math test and note that I am probably lying.

    The story is well-written, well-paced, and just plain fun to read. Though my rating may be a wee-bit high, it is only because I am trying to avoid the "judging a work for how good that author can be rather than for the story's own merit" effect. Dorian Gray is one of my favorite books of all time, and I am afraid that if I gauge my rating of this short on that masterpiece of a novel, I would have to knock it down far too low for what it deserves as a stand-alone story largely designed for children. So, yeah. How about we just say 3.666 stars and call it even?

    *Interesting but useless observation: same mom. Huh.

  4. Danielle The Book Huntress (Angels Weep For Goodreads)October 13, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    Now that was a good ghost story. It was refreshing. I loved the humor, but there was also pathos. I kind of liked the old crusty Canterville ghost, even though he was kind of evil. I loved how the Otis children turned the tables on him. And how Virginia felt sad for Sir Simon, and helped him to get closure.

    This is the second story I've read by Oscar Wilde, and I must say, I am very impressed with his writing. His work has a depth, but an airy lightness to it, and a hard to define beauty to it. Honestly, I can't find the words to really explain how I feel about it. I think that he managed to put so much into this short story, and I was very pleased with the result. I can't believe I waited so long to read Oscar Wilde. Shame on me.

    If you have not read The Canterville Ghost, I highly recommend doing so. It is free online through various sources.

  5. For 300 years Sir Simon has successfully haunted and spooked everyone and anyone residing in his ancestral home, Canterville Chase, then the Otis family from America comes along and suddenly scaring isn’t coming so easily for Simon anymore.

    I was in love with this story in the 7th grade and I had read and reread it a zillion times during junior high and high school. I had recently purchased a copy of the book as it has been many, many years since I have visited Canterville Chase. Last night was storming and rainy and it left me in an Oscar Wilde kind of mood, I opened my copy and revisited the story I had loved so. It’s nice to find out the story has lost none of its luster.

    This tale cracks me up. Sir Simon has a huge repertoire of scare tactics and he pulls out all the stops to spook the Otis family to no avail. The utter frustration the ghost feels in the face of the American’s disregard is absolutely palpable. The harder he tries, the less he succeeds, the more I laugh. Then you have the family turning the tables on him and confronting him in various different ways, each one horrifying to Sir Simon and amusing to the reader.

    In the end, Sir Simon and the Otis family are indebted to one another for various reasons. Amidst the hilarity and fantasy there is just enough sentimentality and romance to make the tale all the more real and engaging. Oscar Wilde had a captivating imagination and luckily the talent to translate it to paper, I suspect I will reread this a zillion more times in my lifetime.

  6. In Canterville Chase there is a misunderstood, unsuccessful ghost, who used to be very successful, until an American family, Otis, moved in. The Americans are portrayed in a peculiar manner. They have a fancy for materialim and American super products, and know nothing about the English etiquette. Wilde emphasized differences in culture by creating special characters and then pitting the "unsophisticated tastes" of the patriotic Americans - patriotic as their children are named Washington and Virginia - against the Brittish esteem of traditions.

    Spoiler's alert!

    Thereby, the family haven’t got a clue how to behave when seeing a ghost, nor that it’s not very polite to insult him. The Ghost tries many different approaches, but is sinking deeper and deeper into despair. It all starts when Mr Otis is tired of the noise the Ghost is making - trying to scare them with rustling chains - and declares: ”I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator”.

    The self-centred Americans don’t respect him at all, despite all his effords to frighten them, and the fact that he's not able to fulfill his duty makes him depressed. He can't understand their behavior, and, in fact, he ends up being the one fleeing from them.
    ”There was evidently no time to be lost, so, hastily adopting the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape, he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quiet quiet.”

    My favorite parts were the ones with the blood-stain. It is hilarious, and referred to many times.
    ”For some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly stirred out of his room at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper repair.”

    ”For five days he kept to his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point of the blood-stain on the library floor. It the Otis family did not want it, they clearly did not deserve it. They were evidently people on a low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena.”

    ”'...who ever heard of emerald-green blood?'
    'Well, really' said the Ghost, rather meekly, 'what was I to do? It is a very difficult thing to get real blood nowadays, and as your brother began it all with his Paragon Detergent, I certainly was no reason why I should not have your paints. As for colour, that is always a matter of taste: the Cantervilles have blue blood, for instance, the very bluest in England; but I know you Americans don’t care for things of this kind.'”

    What is it with Oscar Wilde that so captures me? I ask myself. Well, first and foremost, his books have an exceptional wit. Second, Wilde had a scary, extraordinary ability to reveal people’s inner nature, that is a fact, evident in masterpieces like "Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Nightingale and the Rose". Third, Wilde often turned things around, and offered new perspectives. In this piece of work, Wilde’s main protagonist isn't one of the family, often adopted by other authors of ghost stories, but the Ghost itself. Wilde concentrated on his feelings, fears and despair, and the story takes a different turn than you might have thought. It’s not entirely a satire, it's also deeply insightful and moving. The story, as I see it, is really about forgiveness and moving on, something that, interestingly, is examined through a ghost.

    The ending, where Virginia must weep for him for his sins, because he have no tears, and pray for him for his soul, because he have no faith, was beautiful

  7. This short story about a haunted old mansion in the English countryside is not your typical ghost tale. The reason I picked it as one of my Halloween stories is the mention it gets in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House: (view spoiler) - I really needed to take a break from that book, and this "reversed horror" story was a perfect distraction. And, of course, I'll never get tired of Wilde's wit.

    He used this Gothic setting and put some stereotypical characters to contrast two cultures - old English/British aristocratic society, proud of its history, striving to preserve its traditions vs. (new/young) American, modern, albeit unrefined, consumerist, pragmatic, materialist - and did it with a comical effect. But there's also a certain sadness and tragedy to Sir Simon of Canterville, and a romantic love story going on, all resulting in a message about the power of love and forgiveness blah blah - the end that I, actually, didn't like that much, it's too happy for my taste. Maybe not ideal for Halloween (you won't be scared), but still great, very amusing and humorous tale.

    Some of my favorite parts: (view spoiler)

    [Read this review on my blog ] Google Reads

  8. I give this book 5 stars because it is so funny! I didn't expect it to be so amusing. What a great sense of humor Oscar Wilde has. I will have to look for some more books by him. This book wasn't dry and he didn't require a thousand pages to tell the story......also good.

  9. THE CANTERVILLE GHOST was Oscar Wilde's first published story in 1887. Wilde cleverly places an American family with commercial and practical notions in an English Country House anchored with Gothic lore and traditions. He turns the macabre into humor by turning the tables on the haunting of Canterville Chase.

    Mr. and Mrs. Otis have bought the centuries old home from Lord Canterville himself. He felt it his duty to mention the fact that the house was haunted. Mr. Otis replies, "My Lord, I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation. I come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy and if there was such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we'd have it at home in a very short while."

    Everything else is there in the estate to warrant a supernatural presence. There is wainscotting, creaking floorboards, clanking chains, armor in the hallway, and a library paneled with black oak and a re-appearing blood stain on the floor by the fireplace. Oh, and there are apparitions in the darkest of night through the corridors. Some evenings the family sees a headless form, other moonless nights, the ghost appears to be strangled, covered with blood, or a skeleton.

    So how will the modern American family, minus ancient prophecies, react to living with an unwanted being intent on their removal? The twin boys called Stars and Stripes place wire traps at the head of the stairs and plummet Sir Simon, the ghost, with peas shooters. He is drenched by the oldest boy named Washington (named in a fit of patriotism!) who riggs buckets of water to fall just as the ghost exits a doorway.

    When confronted with the blood stain in the library, Washington responds with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent. And the remedy for the clanking chains, Mr. Otis offers Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to foster the family's peaceful sleep.

    Only one of the Otis' takes Sir Simon seriously, and she is the lovely, sensitive, fifteen year old daughter, Virginia. Their recognition of eachother's caring self will finally enable Sir Simon to leave this dimension after three hundred years of sleepless nights and murderous regrets. She will accompany him to his rest in the Garden of Death and bid him farewell.

    Virginia is well compensated for her attention to his suffering. Years later as a newlywed, she will tell her husband that Sir Simon taught her what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.

    This is a surprising place that the reader finds herself in...laughing at the American's disregard for English tradition, embarrassed by the hubris of their spirit, and rooting for the protagonist who just happens to be a ghost. Highly Recommended!


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