Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

A pragmatic American family purchases Canterville Chase from Lord Canterville, dismissing warnings of the 300-year-old resident ghost which has appeared to and petrified generations of Cantervilles. The Gothic setting and frequent appearances of the ghost do little to unnerve the family, however, enraging the ghost and forcing a confrontation between it and fifteen-year-old Virginia.

Such a delicious story! Oscar Wilde's trademark wit and flourish made this tale a perfect morsel for a Sunday afternoon. I found a reading of The Canterville Ghost on LibriVox, free to download or stream. I streamed it on my iPhone and buried myself beneath quilts on the couch as rain whipped the windowpanes.

As a teenager I was fond of the film adaptation of this novella starring Neve Campbell and Patrick Stewart and was pleased to discover how it differs and complements Wilde's original version. The most marked difference is the belief in the ghost. In the 1995 film, Ginny (Neve Campbell) is accused by her father of orchestrating the ghost in a bid to persuade her family to go home to America--a circumstance that creates plenty of tension between Ginny and her family, and Ginny and the ghost, when she eventually confronts it. In Wilde's version, he subverts the roles of terrorizor and terrorizee: once they meet it, the American family swiftly accept that within Canterville Chase resides a ghost, but refuse to be frightened and even begin to play pranks on it. I like both versions, but particular enjoy Wilde's for the humour of the situation.

The more I discover Oscar Wilde the more I love his work. He banishes tedium and excites the mind. The Canterville Ghost is a perfect little tale.


  1. Wilde has a way of weaving his tales - always with a tinge of darkness in it.

  2. Yes indeed! I liked the total darkness of Salome, but it was nice to get back to a little of his humour. This could be my favourite of his, even though I love love LOVE Importance.

  3. Importance of Being Earnest is probably the funniest thing ever written. And it still holds up!