The Canterville Ghost
"The Canterville Ghost" is a short story by Oscar Wilde. It was the first of Wilde's stories to be published, appearing in two parts in The Court and Society Review, 23 February and 2 March 1887.
The story is about an American family who move to a castle haunted by the ghost of a dead nobleman, who killed his wife and was starved to death by his wife's brothers. It has been adapted for the stage and screen several times.
The home of the Canterville Ghost was the ancient Canterville Chase, which has all the accoutrements of a traditional haunted house. Descriptions of the wainscoting, the library panelled in black oak, and the armour in the hallway characterise the setting. Wilde mixes the macabre with comedy, juxtaposing devices from traditional English ghost stories such as creaking floorboards, clanking chains, and ancient prophecies.
The story begins when the American Minister Mr Otis and his family move into Canterville Chase, despite warnings from Lord Canterville that the house is haunted. Mr Otis says that he will take the furniture as well as the ghost at valuation. The Otis family includes Mr and Mrs Otis, their eldest son Washington, their daughter Virginia, and the Otis twins. The other characters include the Canterville Ghost, the Duke of Cheshire (who wants to marry Virginia), Mrs Umney (the housekeeper), and Rev Augustus Dampier. At first, none of the Otis family believe in ghosts, but shortly after they move in, none of them can deny the presence of Sir Simon de Canterville. The family hears clanking chains, they witness reappearing bloodstains on the floor just by the fireplace, which are removed every time they appear in various forms. But, humorously, none of these scare the Otis family 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 Lubricator to oil his chains.
Despite the ghost's efforts 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 informs Mrs Otis that the blood stain is indeed evidence of the ghost and cannot be removed, Washington Otis, the eldest son, suggests that the stain will be removed with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent: a quick fix, like the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator, and a practical way of dealing with the problem.
Wilde describes Mrs Otis as "a very handsome middle-aged woman" who has been "a celebrated New York belle". Her expression of "modern" American culture surfaces when she immediately resorts to giving the ghost "Doctor Dobell's tincture", thinking he was screaming due to indigestion at the family's second encounter with the ghost, 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 he says: "Indeed, in many respects, she was quite English..."
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 Headless Earl, a Strangled Babe, the Blood-Sucker of Bexley Moor, Suicide's Skeleton, and the Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn, all having succeeded in horrifying previous castle residents over the centuries. But none of them works with these Americans. Sir Simon schemes, but even as his costumes become increasingly gruesome, his antics do nothing to scare his house guests, and the Otises beat him every time. He falls victim to tripwires, peashooters, butter-slides, and falling buckets of water. In a particularly comical scene, he is frightened by the sight of a "ghost" rigged up by the mischievous twins.
During the course of the story, as narrated from Sir Simon's viewpoint, he tells us the complexity of the ghost's emotions: he sees himself brave, frightening, distressed, scared, and finally, depressed and weak. He exposes his vulnerability during an encounter with Virginia, the Otis's fifteen-year-old daughter. Virginia is different from everyone else in the family, and Sir Simon recognises this. He tells her that he has not slept in three hundred years and wants desperately to do so. The ghost reveals to Virginia the tragic tale of his wife, Lady Eleanor de Canterville.
Unlike the rest of her family, Virginia does not dismiss the ghost. She takes him seriously, she listens to him and learns an important lesson, as well as the true meaning behind a riddle. Sir Simon de Canterville says that she must weep for him, for he has no tears; she must pray for him, for he has no faith; and then she must accompany him to the angel of death and beg for Death's mercy upon Sir Simon. She does weep for him and pray for him, and she disappears with Sir Simon through the wainscoting and goes with him to the Garden of Death and bids the ghost farewell. Then she reappears at midnight, through a panel in the wall, carrying jewels and news that Sir Simon has passed on to the next world and no longer resides in the house.
Virginia's ability to accept Sir Simon leads to her enlightenment: Sir Simon, she tells her husband several years later, helped her understand "what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both". The story ends with Virginia marrying the Duke of Cheshire after they both come of age.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1944 Hollywood movie with Charles Laughton in the title role
- Кентервильское привидение, a 1970 Soviet animated film.
- Bhoothnath, a 2008 Bollywood movie adaptation
- The Canterville Ghost, (Le Fantôme de Canterville) a 2016 French-Belgian film.
- The Canterville Ghost, a British animated feature film with the voices of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Hart, originally intended for release in 2016 and unreleased as of December 2019.
According to The American Film Institute Catalog, “Among the many other adaptations of Oscar Wilde's story are the following television versions, all titled The Canterville Ghost :”
Sept.28, 1949 on ABC network, directed by Fred Carr and starring Wendy Barrie and Edward Ashley
November 20, 1950 on NBC network’s Robert Montgomery Presents Your Lucky Strike Theatre, starring Cecil Parker and Margaret O'Brien
April 12, 1951, on the Du Mont network, directed by Frank Wisbar, starring Lois Hall, Reginald Sheffield and Bruce Lester
May 1953, Ziv TV’s syndicated version, directed by Sobey Martin, starring John Qualen and Connie Marshall
November 9, 1966, The Canterville Ghost, a 1966 ABC television musical that aired 2 November and featured Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Michael Redgrave. Featured songs by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
October 15, 1986, for syndication, directed by Paul Bogart, starring John Gielgud, Ted Wass and Andrea Marcovicci.
In addition to the AFI list:
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1962 British television drama on the BBC Sunday-Night Play featuring Bernard Cribbins.
- The Canterville Ghost (1974), a made-for-TV film starring David Niven. aired on 10 March 1975 in the United States; it also aired in West Germany and France.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1985 television film starring Richard Kiley, on PBS.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1988 animated television special.
- Episode 7 of the first series of the British anthology program Mystery and Imagination, which aired 12 March 1966 and featured Bruce Forsyth as the ghost.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1996 film for television (ABC), starring Patrick Stewart.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 1997 British television film starring Ian Richardson, Celia Imrie
- The Canterville Ghost, a 2001 animated Australian film for television by Burbank Films Australia.
On radio and audio
- Canterville Ghost, a 1974 radio drama adapted by George Lowthar for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater series.
- A radio dramatisation was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on New Year's Eve 1992.
- A reading of the story by Alistair McGowan was broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in December 2007.
- The Canterville Ghost, a 2011 audiobook production by W F Howes narrated by Rupert Degas
A graphic novel version published by Classical Comics in 2010 adapted by Scottish writer Sean Michael Wilson, with art by Steve Bryant and Jason Millet
- The Ghost of Canterville (1965–1966) is an opera by the Russian composer Alexander Knaifel to a libretto by Tatiana Kramarova based on Wilde's story.
- Bílý pán aneb Těžko se dnes duchům straší an opera by Czech composer Jaroslav Křička based on Wilde's story, libretto by J. L. Budín, premiered in 1929. (The Wikipedia pages on Křička in Czech, French, German and Russian contain much more information than the Wikipedia page in English, which is a stub.)
- The Canterville Ghost opera by Gordon Getty. Debut performance at Leipzig Opera on 9 May 2015.
- Tall Stories Theatre Company , created a music-hall adaptation of the story that premiered at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has toured since then. (2018 Festival Review on official website)
- "The Canterville Ghost" is a song by the Austrian symphonic metal band Edenbridge in the album Shine. The song is preceded by an intro track named "The Canterville Prophecy".
- "Dark Depth" is a song by the Serbian thrash metal band Alister from the album Obscurity, heavily influenced by Oscar Wilde's story.
- "El Fantasma de Canterville" is a song by the Argentinian musician Charly García
- Canterville – The musical is a musical by Flavio Gargano, Robert Steiner and Valentina De Paolis
- Sherard, Robert Harborough (1906). The Life of Oscar Wilde. New York: Mitchell Kennerley. p. 454.
- Sonia Chopra. "Bhoothnath". Sify.
- Bettridge, Daniel (25 October 2012). "Fry and Laurie to reunite for The Canterville Ghost". Radio Times. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
- "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Jones, Kenneth (28 July 2012). "Bock & Harnick TV Musical "The Canterville Ghost" Gets NYC Screening". Playbill. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
- The Canterville Ghost (Audiobook Review) Booklover Book Reviews
- www.qcm.cz, QCM s r o. "Bílý pán aneb Těžko se dnes duchům straší". Národní divadlo Brno (in Czech). Retrieved 19 December 2019.
Works related to The Canterville Ghost at Wikisource Media related to The Canterville Ghost at Wikimedia Commons The Canterville Ghost public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- The Canterville Ghost at Project Gutenberg