Review Summary: In The Canterville Ghost, with modern prose and themes, and characters like caricatures, Oscar Wilde lampoons traditional ghost stories.
The Canterville Ghost Short Synopsis:
A terrifying ghost is haunting the ancient mansion of Canterville Chase, complete with creaking floorboards, clanking chains and gruesome disguises – but the new occupants, the Otis family, seem strangely undisturbed by his presence. Deftly contrasting the conventional gothic ghost story with the pragmatism of the modern world, Wilde creates a gently comic fable of the conflict between old and new.
Rupert Degas’s hilarious reading brings the absurdity and theatricality of the story to life.
(Unabridged Audiobook Length: 1 hr and 17 mins, W F Howes)
Genre: Audio, Classics, Humour, Historical, Literature, Mystery
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With so many wonderful new books being released I’ve not found time to read many of the classics. Only quite recently have I discovered the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s satirical works. I found the audiobook versions of The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan an absolute delight – the perfect thing to brighten my mood during the daily commute. Next on my list was his short story The Canterville Ghost.
I’m not drawn to ghost stories, so I was relieved to find The Canterville Ghost is atypical of the genre.
Firstly, a large portion of the hilarious narrative is from the viewpoint of the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville who is immensely frustrated by the Otis family’s arrival at his long-time home ‘Canterville Chase’. Secondly, while the setting is definitely gothic this story actually lampoons traditional features of ghost stories; the appearance of bloodstains, the creaking floorboards and the sound of rattling chains. It is a satire or parody of gothic fiction.
Themes and characters
The underlying theme of this novel is actually the clash of stereotypical American consumerism and traditional British historical sensibilities but taken to the extreme.
“The next morning, when the Otis family met at breakfast, they discussed the ghost at some length. The United States Minister was naturally a little annoyed to find that his present had not been accepted. “I have no wish,” he said, “to do the ghost any personal injury, and I must say that, considering the length of time he has been in the house, I don’t think it is at all polite to throw pillows at him”—a very just remark, at which, I am sorry to say, the twins burst into shouts of laughter. “Upon the other hand,” he continued, “if he really declines to use the Rising Sun Lubricator, we shall have to take his chains from him. It would be quite impossible to sleep, with such a noise going on outside the bedrooms.”
The key characters, Sir Simon de Canterville (ghost), British aristocrats Lord and Lady Canterville (previous owners of the property), new wealthy American owners Mr and Mrs Otis (a minister and NY socialite, respectively), their artistic teenage daughter Virginia Otis and her younger twin brothers, read more like caricatures. The twin boy characters are not even named, simply referred to by their nickname ‘The Stars and Stripes’. Virginia is the most likeable member of the Otis family, being sympathetic towards the curmudgeonly Sir Simon de Canterville (even when he steals her paints), rather than fearful.
Note: If you are wanting a detailed analysis and summary of The Canterville Ghost characters, themes, plot and even chapter by chapter, CourseHero is an excellent resource.
What I am continually impressed by is how modern and fresh Oscar Wilde’s prose still sounds. It would be easy to forget it was penned in the late 1800s.
Rupert Degas’ narration of The Canterville Ghost audiobook is first class.
The deadpan and quizzical tone of his delivery enhances the intended sarcasm of The Canterville Ghost text (listen to a sample).
While I strongly recommend enjoying this tale in the audiobook medium (it’s only a short listen at 1 hr 17 mins), this novel has been translated to the big screen several times. For example, check out this movie trailer of The Canterville Ghost (1996) starring Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell.
How’s that for a retro blast from the past? But in all seriousness, thankfully the TV movie of The Canterville Ghost (1997) starring Ian Richardson and Celia Imrie appears to be much more faithful to the story’s characters and period setting.
According to IMDb, there is yet another remake of this classic currently in pre-production, an animated movie featuring the voices of Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry (the ghost) and Miranda Hart. I’ll definitely be checking that out.
The Canterville Ghost is another highly entertaining piece of classic literature from a writer born well before his time. It is one well worth finding the time to read.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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RELATED READS: We have subsequently also enjoyed listening to another of Oscar Wilde’s plays, An Ideal Husband in audio. Plus Author Laura Lee shared with us the fascinating story of how she came to write Oscar’s Ghost, the first book to focus on the battle for this author‘s legacy.
About the Author, Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, and the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.
Booklover Fact: More than 36,500 people have rated this title on Goodreads.