“The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde
2013/04/18 § Leave a comment
This short story about a haunted old mansion in the English countryside is not your typical ghost tale. You can even call it “reversed horror”, as the ghost is the one who is being tormented here. Or, in the words of Dr. Montague from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”:
“Do you recall,” he asked with a little smile, “Oscar Wilde’s lovely story, ‘The Canterville Ghost’?” “The American twins who routed the fine old English ghost,” Theodora said. “Exactly. I have always liked the notion that the American twins were actually a poltergeist phenomenon; certainly poltergeists can overshadow any more interesting manifestation. Bad ghosts drive out good.”
However, it is a typical Wilde, and I’ll never get tired of his 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 was too happy for my taste. Still great, very amusing and humorous tale.
See for yourself:
“I fear that the ghost exists,” said Lord Canterville, smiling,” (…) It has been well known for three centuries, since 1584 in fact, and always makes its appearance before the death of any member of our family.”
“Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville. But there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.”
Indeed, in many respects, [Mrs. Otis] was quite English, and was an excellent example of the fact that we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
“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 saw 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.”
“You know nothing about it, and the best thing you can do is to emigrate and improve your mind. My father will be only too happy to give you a free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirits of every kind, there will be no difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are all Democrats. Once in New York, you are sure to be a great success. I know lots of people there who would give a hundred thousand dollars to have a grandfather, and much more than that to have a family ghost.”
THE CANTERVILLE GHOST (1906) by Oscar Wilde
“The Canterville Ghost” (1986) (imdb):