Literature Reviews

Short Story Review: The Canterville Ghost

the canterville ghost
Illustration by Wallace Goldsmith

This review contains spoilers

Rating: ★★★★☆

Title: The Canterville Ghost

Author: Oscar Wilde

Genre: Gothic short story

Publication Date: 29 May 1887*

Publisher: The Court and Society Review*

Where to buy: The Canterville Ghost

Summary: “This is Oscar Wilde’s tale of the American family moved into a British mansion, Canterville Chase, much to the annoyance its tired ghost. The family — which refuses to believe in him — is in Wilde’s way a commentary on the British nobility of the day — and on the Americans, too.” (Source: Goodreads)

*The short story was originally published in a literary magazine in the 1880’s, however, the edition I read was published in 1997.

The Good

I do not believe in half star ratings, but I was torn between 3 or 4 stars. What made me give this short story 4 full stars was the reversal of a traditional ghost story: the saddening fact that the ghost himself is haunted.

Firstly, I did not expect to enjoy this story; I am not a massive fan of overextended 19th-century descriptions and sentences. But, what I do enjoy is ghost stories that begin with the main characters in denial of the supernatural. I mean, that is just asking for it. 

Oscar Wilde’s short story has some stereotypes, but it seems to aid the storyline. The American family are portrayed as materialistic and have patriotic names, like Washington and Virginia, and because they “come from a modern country”, they do things differently to the English – like not believing in the supernatural.

Nonetheless, after meeting the ghost, the family strangely accept the ghostly presence. This is where the story starts to differ from the traditional plot of a ghost story, the family attempt to thwart the tiresome ghost at any given opportunity, all but one: young Virginia. The purpose of Wilde’s stereotyping of the American family is to reinforce the idea that they have a different kind of thinking and living, compared to what the ghost has endured with the English families across the centuries.

Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted. (p.34)

In a strange turn of events, the ghost finds himself tormented by the living and we are introduced to his existential, or rather, non-existential, crisis. From here, the story becomes predictable.  However, what I loved about Wilde’s short story was the ghost’s hilarious determination to terrorise the family, especially when he resolved to re-stain the carpet.

Why did I read it?

Gothic is one of the most interesting genres, and because it was in short form, I had to pick it up.

Does the author have other works?

Oscar Wilde has written several works across various genres. Wilde’s works include The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband.

Overall…

The last few pages were a bit unnecessary and a little frustrating as one little thing was not resolved! Regardless, I still enjoyed it as it was a humorous story in places and incredibly well written by Wilde.

– Melissa Jennings

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