Wednesday, October 03, 2018

A Spectre in Armour

The Canterville Ghost 

The Canterville Ghost

"The vulgarity of the twins, and the gross materialism of Mrs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying, but what really distressed him most was, that he had been unable to wear the suit of mail. He had hoped that even modern Americans would be thrilled by the sight of a Spectre in Amour," - Oscar Wilde

This is a story by one of the greatest humorists of his or any age, so one should not be surprised when it turns out that the titular Ghost is not very scary. At least he is not scary to the American Minister to Great Britain and his family who bought Canterville Chase in spite of severe warnings that it was "haunted".

The ghost who haunts Canterville had died a hundred years ago and ever since had managed to scare the subsequent residents. That all changes when Mr.Hiram B. Otis, his wife, and four children take residence. Hiram is emphatic when he says, "I come from a modern country . . . I reckon that if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we'd have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show."

Needless to say, Wilde has fun with his parody of the hicks from America, but also pokes fun at the British lords with their cultural snobbery. What ensues is a topsy-turvy plot with the Ghost being flummoxed by the refusal of the Otis's to believe in him along with the mischievous activities of the youngest children, twins, who pester him on an almost daily basis.

The story is subtitled "A Hylo-Idealistic Romance" and as a romance it does have a sweet ending. Virginia, the only daughter in the family and a kind-hearted girl, becomes friends with the ghost. She gradually learns his background, appropriately sordid, and the story takes the reader on a supernatural journey befitting a "haunted house" tale. The result is one that benefits both the Ghost and Virginia, but you will have to read the story to learn the details. Let me say, however, that it was a delightful and satisfying story from the comic beginning to the romantic ending. It almost left me wanting to believe in ghosts, at least those that are as sympathetic as this creation of Oscar Wilde.


Brian Joseph said...

I have only read The Picture of Dorian Gray from Wilde. I liked that a lot. This sounds funny and charming and very different from Dorian Gray. I may make it a not so scary Halloween read this year.

Marian H said...

The plot sounds almost Twain-esque... I really need to read more of Wilde's short stories. Thanks for sharing!