The Canterville Ghost Summary and Analysis

Read our complete notes below on the novella “The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde. Our notes cover The Canterville Ghost summary, analysis, themes, and characters.

Introduction:

Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright, born on 16 October 1854 and died on 30 November 1900. He started writing when the Victorian Era was about to end. The era is marked with the rise of middle class in Britain. The advancement in technology and Industrial revolution paved way for the rise of the middle class. In addition to this, the British Empire expanded in this era. We see a clash and contrast between the values of old British aristocracy and the modern world. The old aristocracy depended upon the inherited land for their income and does not indulge themselves in earning through labor, however, the rising idle class romanticized the significance of the family, prudence, and labor. Yet, still, many working-class dwelled in paucity and filth. The Government warrants meticulously inspected the living environments of the underprivileged in an effort to recover the entirety from manure systems to schooling. The Victorian novelist highlighted the day-to-day issues in their writing in order to made government aware of social problems.

Summary:

The novella “The Canterville Ghost” opens with an American minister Horace B. Otis who buy an old British mansion named Canterville Chase. Despite the warning of Lord Canterville, the former owner of the mansion, that the mansion is ghostly and haunted, Mr. Otis seems not to be bothered and replies calmly that there are no ghosts. Mr. Otis soon moves into the Hunt with his family that includes: Lucretia, his wife, Washington, his eldest son; Virginia, his daughter; and his two young twin boys. Lucretia, upon entering, notices a bloodstain on the floor and orders to clean it. The housekeeper responds that the bloodstain cannot be cleaned and discloses the fact that this bloodstain is from the killing of Lady Eleanore de Canterville by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville in 1575. Lucretia starts worrying and warns her husband that the guilty ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville still roams around in Canterville Hunt. Washington dismisses the housekeeper’s story as nonsense and take out the “Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover” container and remove the stain with it. The moment the stain is gone, the mansion is hit by a peal of thunder rocks and lightning. The housekeeper swoons in fright.

Otis, the very next morning, finds that the bloodstain is back peculiarly. They regularly clean the bloodstain to see if it reappears or not.  Enthralled, Mr. Otis and his family get to know that the mansion is haunted in actual. Later, one-night reverberating noise awakened Mr. Otis in the middle of the night. He comes across the ghost of Sir Simon in the hallway. Instead of getting frightened by the ghost, Otis offers him Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to lubricate his metal chain that was making a lot of noise. Sir Simon feels utterly humiliated and departures down the hallway where he encounters the twin throwing pillows at his head. Sir Simon, on return to his chamber, recalls his long three hundred years successful years of being a ghost, enrages at the humiliation and insult caused to him. He wakes up all the night determined to plot his revenge against the “wretched modern American” and to make them frightened.

Otis, in the meantime, amusingly notes that the bloodstain changes color on daily basis; however, Virginia seems to be not interested in the changing stain and does not find it amusing. She looks mysteriously upset by it. Otis’s family, one day, finds out the ghost of Sir Simon in an awkward position, for instance, while putting on his suit of armor, he has fallen down. The twins find it amusing and shoot him with pea shooters; moreover, M. Otis insults him by saying that he may be suffering from the upset stomach when the Ghost tries to scare them with his evil laughter. Sir Simon become ill and is bound to his chamber for several days. Yet, soon, he decides for the third attempt to make Otis’s family frightened and picks out an outfit that suited his mission. The ghost makes his way to Washington’s room, however, he encounters the twins who are masked as ghosts. Sir Simon believes them to be a real ghost and flees away in sheer dread. Sir Simon becomes utterly depressed and decides to withdraw from his ghostly obligations, and make his self as invisible as possible. He, later, resolves for the final attempt to avenge and enters the room of the twins. Over there an engineered jug scrapyards water on his head, instigating him a severe cold.

Sir Simon finally gives up the hope to frighten the family and discontinue to appear. The members of the family suppose that the ghost has left forever. The young Duke of Cheshire decides to stay at Canterville mansion after falling in love with Virginia. Virginia, someday, accidentally encounters the ghost after her arrival from horse-riding with the Duke of Cheshire. Virginia pities the ghost and proposes that he start behaving himself. However, the ghost of Simon replies with sorrow that it is useless to for him to act against the ghostly nature; both of them also argue over whether or not it was Sir Simon’s fault to kill his wife. Virginia, finally, suggests Sir Simon migrate to America to start living from a new end; however, sir Simon express his wish in a reply that he only desires to be able to sleep in the Garden of death. Moreover, he also tells Virginia about the prophecy that the only mean for Simon’s peace is if she (Virginia) cries for his wickedness and pray for his soul to rest in peace. Surprisingly, agrees to grant him peace and follows him to the dimension ghost wants.

In the afternoon, the Otis’ family gets highly terrified when Virginia does not come for the tea, they start searching her everywhere and also notify the police. The whole mansion jiggles when the clock strikes twelve, and Virginia suddenly appears. She informs her family about the conversations between Sir Simon and gets and tells them that he, now, is in peace. She also reveals a huge box of jewels that she received from Sir Simon as a gift. Furthermore, she directs her family to Sir Simon’s secret chamber to show them the leftovers of him. A huge funeral is held for Sir Simon in which the family entombs the leftover of him. Mr. Otis offers the huge box of the jewel to Lord Canterville, the former owner of the mansion, contending that he owns them, yet, Lord Canterville refuses to take them. Virginia and the Duke can marry once the Duke comes of his age. On the visit to Sir Simon’s grave, after their honeymoon, Duke inquires Virginia of the actual happening when she left with the Ghost of Sir Simon. Ignoring to answer completely, she just tells him that Sir Simon taught her the true meaning of love, death, and life.

Themes:

Clash of Cultures:

We witness the clash of cultures from the start of the novella “The Canterville Ghost”. The author associates the attitude and behavior of an American citizen Mr. Otis to that of upper class British. Americans seem to be quite a skeptic regarding the idea of ghosts. When Lord Canterville warns Mr. Otis of the haunted mansion, he simply replies that there are no ghosts. Moreover, he also mentions that if there existed any ghosts, America would have approved of them and would buy them. The idea of Americans buying everything of Europeans shows that Europe is on sale, and everything that fascinates American, they buy it.

Later in the play, the American Advocate, Otis also starts believing in the existence of the Ghost when the ghosts appear several times. However, the ghost who had terrified the English people for about three hundred years, couldn’t produce a single scream out of a single member of Otis family. They encounter and deal with the ghost in a totally different way than of English people. For instance, they offer the ghost a Lubricant for his noisy chains, Pinkerton’s detergent to clean the bloodstain and cough syrup for his humorous laughter.

The ghost, in more than one way, represents Europe’s decaying and rotten culture. The ghost’s shallow characters are depicted through his change of costumes and appearance to cause terror to the Otis family. The play pities the old world against the modern world having advanced technology and shakes the traditions and conventions.

Aesthetics:

We see various elements in the play that needs to be appreciated because of its uniqueness and artistic effects. We see a clash between an aesthetic sense of English people and Americans. For instance, Otis is unable to figure out the aesthetics of ghost. He tries to find out scientific and technological explanation of everything i.e. bad weather might be due to overpopulation. Moreover, he is unable to link lightning, crashing thunder and a haunted mansion. Similarly, Otis believes in technology more than anything. He offers a Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to Sir Simon for lubrication of his chain instead of appreciating it. The Otis family, namely American overlook the artistry of Sir Simon’s ghost.

However, Sir Simon, representative of English people, wishes for sympathetic onlooker who can appreciate his artistry. Though Virginia is a 15 years old young girl, is better able to understand arts than any other member of his family. Virginia wishes to draw a portrayal of sunsets, yet her perky colors are stolen by Sir Simon’s ghost to renew the bloodstain. Due to this, Virginia is forced to paint melancholiest midnights. We also see Virginia following ghost into his world to see his aesthetics. Oscar Wilde represents ghost as symbol or “art for art’s sake”.

Forgiveness and Compensation:

We see comic elements in the novella in the representation of the class of cultures and aesthetics among English people and American, however, the idea of forgiveness and compensation is treated in a serious manner. When Sir Simon talks to Virginia, he shows himself and indeed appears more target than victimizer. Since, Sir Simon just has murdered his ugly, bad cook wife but Otis’ family degrades him every time. Virginia seems to be intelligent and doesn’t accept his one-sided story, yet she pities him.

Sir Simon was unable to rest in peace since he’s murdered three hundred years back by his wife’s brother. He searches for peace but is unable to find it. He tells Virginia about the prophecy and asks for his help. Virginia, due to her pure heart and unafraid of the ghost, agrees to help him. By doing so, Virginia merges the British and American ethics. She has recognized the custom of the Ghost and blends it with American’s wisdom of optimism for a restored prospect. Virginia is remunerated with a huge box of cherished jewels, in addition, wedding to his beloved Duke of Cheshire. Wilde generates a fairy tale fairy who could compensate for the past sins and directs one to the prosperous future.

Character Analysis:

Duke of Cheshire:

The Duke of Cheshire is a young, boyish guy is falls in love with a fifteen-year-old young Virginia, after seeing her in a pony race. He frantically loves her, yet his caretakers sent him to Eton, where he has to wait to come off an age to marry Virginia. We cannot subdue his hastiness. At the time, when Virginia disappears, he made himself a part of the search party and soon when she reemerges, he impulsively starts kissing her. His devotion to Virginia is doubtless and soon he is rewarded for this. Towards the end of the novella, Virginia marries him and become Dutches of Cheshire.

Ghost:

Sir Simon Canterville is actually a ghost who wanders in Canterville mansion since he was murdered three hundred years back by his wife’s brothers. He was murdered because he killed his ugly wife for insignificant reasons; for instance, she was ugly, plain, and worst housewife. Sir Simon is cursed not to rest in peace that’s why he made Canterville mansion haunted and frightened it for three hundred years. He enjoys his character as a ghost. He changes his outfits in order to frighten the Otis’ family; for instance, he appears as “the Headless Earl”, “The Blood-sucker of Bexley moor”, etc. But when the American Otis family start residing in the Canterville Mansion, the ghost realizes his performance is not admired by them. Whatsoever he does, he is unable to make the American frightened. At last, tired and disappointed, he begs Virginia to weeps for him so that he can rest in peace. The ghost presents himself as an object of sympathy by the pranks of the twins and not able to make the family frightened. He gifts a huge box of jewels to Virginia before going to the grave.

Mr. Horace B. Otis:

He is an energetic head of the American Otis family. He is the new owner of the Canterville Mansion who first let go the tales of the ghost in the haunted mansion. He argues that modern American has already purchased every ancient thing from Europe. The ghost of Sir Simon is surprised when he offers him lubricating oil for his noisy chains so that the family can sleep well. Moreover, he is calm nature is shown when he scolds his younger twin children for throwing pillows at the ghost, and also warns ghost to use lubricating oil else he is take away the chains. He leads the search party in searching of lost Virginia and ultimately agrees to let her marry to the Duke of Cheshire.

Mrs. Lucretia Tappan Otis:

Mrs. Lucretia Tappan Otis is a wife of Mr. Horace B. Otis and determined matriarch of the Otis family. She is an earlier New York beauty and is well known for her “outstanding outline”. The Ghost of Sir Simon Canterville thinks of her as a materialistic when she offers him pills of indigestion; as she misunderstands his fearful laughter as a symptom of stomach disorder. She seems to be undisturbed by the presence of the ghost in the mansion and introduces him to her neighbors as clambakes. Mrs. Otis has pleasing animal spirits in the novel except when she has anxiety at the disappearance of her daughter Virginia.

Virginia Otis:

VirginiaOtis is a young, beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter of Mr. Otis, an American Minister. She is somewhat a Puritan girl. She stimulated the love of the young Duke of Cheshire when the novel begins. In the start of the novel, the reader is not introduced with much of her personality. She is shown at the back of the story when the family plots against the ghost and humiliates his every action. However, when Virginia happenstances Sir Simon, the ghost, she shows sympathy towards him and agrees to weeps for him in order to help his soul rest in peace. Sir Simon tells her about the prophecy that if young girl prays for him and weeps for him, he will gain eternal peace. She courageously follows him to another dimension, ignoring the weary noises. Well ahead, she marries the Duke of Cheshire, who pleads her to tell the whole story of the night when she disappears with the ghost. Virginia tells him nothing but that Sir Simon has told her the true meaning of love, life and death and she is very grateful to him for this.

Stars and Stripes:

The twins and the youngest, wild hooligans of Mr. Otis, the American Minister. They are very naughtier and throw pillows at the ghost’s head; his Sir Simon with their shooters. Moreover, to jaunt the ghost, they throw small nut in the hallway. Uncontrollable, the twins accomplish their utmost victory when they fashion their own apparition from a bed shutter and a kitchen hatchet. Their endless tomfooleries consent Sir Simon dazed since his all strategies for vengeance is disenchanted by the twins’ struggles.

Analysis:

Decadent Movement was established in France was bring into England in the late years of 1800. Decadents assumed that beauty should be placed and valued over everything; art for art’s sake. In believing of the supremacy of art over everything, they rejected novels of earlier Victorian period that addressed social problems. Oscar Wilde, one of the followers of the Decadent Movement-also known as aesthetics, had written his renowned preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this preface, he has mentioned that “an artist does not have moral compassion. Such moral compassion in an artist is an unforgivable idiosyncrasy of style”. According to Wilde, having morals in the judgments lessened the originality of art. The followers of the Decadent Movement was deprived of the ethics of the era and we see such elements in the novel “The Canterville Ghost”.

The time period in which the novel “The Canterville Ghost” was written was a time of advancement in science and technology.   Darwin’s theory of The Origin of Species, in 1859, was hotly debated in this era. The advanced technology presented a view of Mesmerism. In this, the scientist presented an idea of the possibility of hypnosis to control the mind. The society was established to prove the existence of ghosts. In “The Canterville Ghost”, we see such references to the scientific developments.
The setting of the novel is a Mansion, Canterville Castle, which has all the accessories of the conventional mansion that is haunted. The gothic setting of the novel is characterized by the wainscoting, the shield in the corridor etc. The gothic setting of the play highlights the contrast between the clash of cultures between old British aristocracy and modern Americans.

Oscar Wilde also emphasizes various stereotypes in the novel. The Canterville Mansion claims to be haunted, however, the comic traits of a haunted house could easily be identified by the readers. Similarly, Mr. Otis represents another stereotype. Mr. Otis and his family consider American superiority over everything. They also believe in the scientific technologies consider science to be the solution to every problem.

We also witness a Fairy-tale in “The Canterville Ghost” Virginia is presented as the fairy of the fairy tale who is sympathetic towards the sinners and show them the right path.