the Little Red Reviewer

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Posted on: January 3, 2021

 

Will the person who mentioned this story to me please stand up?  Someone recommended or mentioned Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, either on their blog or a comments section somewhere or on twitter, or maybe I read about this on tor.com or somewhere else, and I want to know who recommended this to me, so I can thank them.

I’m not sure if this story qualifies as vintage science fiction.  It was written more than 100 years ago, so it’s certainly vintage, but it isn’t very SF-y or even fantasy-y. It is a humorous ghost story.  In a round about way, i guess Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost is an ancestor of light hearted urban fantasy, non-horror ghost stories, and maybe even Casper the Friendly Ghost type stories?  It might also be an ancestor of another ghost story, but I’ll get to that one later! 

 

The Canterville Ghost isn’t very long and you can read it over at Project Gutenberg and there’s a free audio version on LibriVox as well.  Published in 1887 in the magazine The Court and Society Review, this story was Wilde’s first published fiction (he’d already published plenty of poetry).  The gist of the story is pretty straight forward – An American family is getting ready to purchase an English Country house.  The American father, Hiram B. Otis, isn’t pushed off when told that the house is haunted, he’s happy to buy the home, the furniture, and the ghost!

Mr. Otis and his family of Mrs. Otis, their oldest son Washington, their daughter Virginia, and their younger twin sons,  promptly move in, and are greeted by the ghost’s famous blood stain on the living room floor. 

 

What follows is a laugh out loud story of the ghost, Sir Simon, and his old fashioned attempts to scare away this decidedly modern American family.  Mr and Mrs Otis take every opportunity for product placement,  the twin boys play hilarious (and kinda mean) tricks on the ghost, and poor ghostly Sir Simon is so out of his league he literally can’t even.  

 

Sir Simon tries the classic trick of rattling chains in the middle of the night.  He’s greeted by a disgruntled and sleepy Mr Otis who tells the ghost to stop being so loud because people are trying to sleep, and oh by the way here is some branded oil for your chains, have a nice evening chap.   When Sir Simon screams and  groans all night, he’s approached by a helpful Mrs. Otis, who offers him a branded tincture to help with his sore throat and supposed indigestion.  I’m not describing it well, but it is hilarious! 

I did feel bad for Sir Simon, when the young twins play all sorts of pranks on him. My favorite was when they put a pail of water on top of a barely opened door, and play in the room.  Thinking he will startle them senseless, Sir Simon rushes in, only to have the pail of water dumped on his head. The poor ghost gets a cold and spends a week in bed. Such comical, wacky antics, such absurdity that you can give a ghost a cold!  

Sir Simon is used to the “old way” of haunting people, things have worked so well for him over the last few centuries. And boy does he love bragging about the different names people gave him over the years! But none of his old tricks are working on these darn Americans!

 

The Canterville Ghost gently pokes fun at American consumerism and at the British habit of giving ghosts multiple monikers.    Teenaged Virginia Otis is the only one in the family to show kindness to the Sir Simon, and Sir Simon decides to show kindness to her in return. He takes her into the walls of the house, and tells her who he was, what he did, and why he was killed.  He tells Virginia a secret, and she helps him find peace. 

 

And then the story wraps up, except we never do find out what secretive thing he told Virginia.

 

Ok, so we’ve got a ghost who fails to scare away the new residents,  people who don’t take being haunted seriously, a teen girl who is friendly towards the ghost, a marriage proposal at the end  . . .   

 

 . . . . did Oscar Wilde inspire the movie Beetlejuice? 

7 Responses to "The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde"

I’m sure that I’ve read this book but I can’t remember because I also saw the film and it has superimposed itself over everything else. I’ll have to go and grab a copy.
Lynn 😀

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I did see that a bunch of film versions were made! Which version did you see? did you like it?

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I was part of a children’s theatrical troupe as a child, and The Canterville Ghost was the first play I took part in (I played a third twin as I began after the roles had been set…). Thank you for reminding me that I really should read the original!

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what a wonderful experience you had! do you remember any of the tricks you and your twins (or, erm, fellow triplets?) played on the ghost, in your on-stage version?

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I’m adding this to my list of stuff to write about next January for Vintage Scifi Month! (My queue for this month is already filled up. 🙂 )

The Canterville Ghost sounds delightful, and your review of it was well done.

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oh, it was such a fun read! perfectly paced and laugh out loud funny! Hard to believe it was written over a 100 years ago!

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It’s a great story, though I’d have called it Vintage Fantasy. I also remember liking the Hallmark 1996 TV movie they’d made on it (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115820/). Do try it out if you can!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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