Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Ever since I read an excerpt of ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde, a few days back, it ranked quite high on my ‘To Be Read list‘.

But, yesterday, I stumbled upon a short story by the same author. The name appealed to me and in a jiffy, I downloaded the free audio-book, that promised to deal with an English ghost.

In keeping with the name “Canterville Ghost” I expected a hair-raising, bone-chilling horror story. But, little did I know that in the deft hands of quick witted Oscar Wilde, an abominable ghost would win my heart felt sympathy, while his spirit is badly bruised by the rude, negligent behavior of Americans, leaving him on the verge of a nervous breakdown!

To begin with, Canterville Ghost is the story of a wicked man, Sir Simon Cantervile who killed his wife as she could neither cook nor repair and has been haunting his own house for 300 years. His terror is so wide-spread that the members of his own clan have left Canterville Chase for good. However, then enters a practical, new age American Minister, Mr. Otis, who refuses to believe in the existence of any supernatural elements, leave alone a long-dead man!

Otis family includes Mr. and Mrs. Otis, their son Washington, daughter Virginia and twin sons (Stars and Stripes). On the very first night, Otis family discovers a blood stain on the carpet of living room. They are told by the housekeeper that the blood stain had been there for almost three centuries, as this was the very spot, where Sir Simon (now Mr. Ghost) killed his wife. It serves as a constant reminder to the continued existence of the horrible man, who makes frequent appearances dressed as macabre characters.

But, Otises refuse to be cowed down by a mere ghost, and Washington stubbornly removes the blood stain with Pinkerton stain remover and Paragon detergent. Till this time, I was hoping that now the ghost would make a strong come back and the free spirited Americans would begin to die one by one, as is the usual case in any horror movie.

However, the next few events proved all my hunches wrong. Far from being afraid of the ghost, the family continued to make fun of him – hitting him with pillow, shooting him with pea-shooters, tripping him over the wires. Even, rudely ordering him to lubricate his chains to avoid the annoying noise and drink tincture to contain his horrid indigestion groans!

The comedy reached a peak, when the ghost encounters a fake ghost in the house, and is scared out of his life. Would the poor ghost ever be able to re-establish his authority or would his spirit continue to be subjected to such tortuous insults by the Otis, forms the basic framework of this short story of seven chapters, wrapped up in the audio format in almost one and a half hours.

It would be an understatement to say that I loved the story. I am simply in awe of Oscar Wilde’s comic timing. He has given a totally new meaning to the scary ghostly world. The language was immaculate, the narrative flowing. Different diction and accents were used – archaic and affected for the 300 year old ghost and easy, flowing ones for the new aged practical Americans. So, was the description of setting – macabre, haunting and yet very lively.

There were quite a few references to the works of other authors as well, all made in good humor. Be it the scarlet letter alluded to as the marker of sin on the breastplate of bogus ghost or the Tatler as a chronicler of Canterville history.

The elaborate preparations Sir Simon made to scare his victims, putting up the dress, applying make up and planning his exact moves, were simply hilarious. Besides, I could hardly contain myself from laughing at the stress laid on the brand names of paragon detergent or sunrise lubricant. Had Oscar Wilde been alive, he would have been a pioneer in the product advertisement industry.

But, above all the story is so entertaining that one read or hearing is hardly sufficient. If you have never read a ghost story before, give it a chance and you would be hooked forever, and if you are a die hard fan of horror movies and supernatural tales, then open your eyes to this wonderful amalgamation of wit, comedy and horror. An awesome story by the American legend!

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