Study Guide

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost Summary

Overview

"The Canterville Ghost" is a parody featuring a dramatic spirit named Sir Simon and an American ambassador named Mr. Hiram B. Otis. Mr. Otis travels to England with his family and moves into a haunted castle. Lord Canterville, the previous owner of the castle, warns Mr. Otis that the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville has haunted the castle ever since he killed his wife, Eleonore, centuries ago. But Mr. Otis dismisses the ghost story as bunk and disregards Lord Canterville's warnings. When the Otises learn that the castle is indeed haunted, they succeed in victimizing the ghost and in disregarding age-old British traditions. What emerges is a satire of American materialism and an amusing twist on the traditional gothic horror tale.

The Canterville Ghost Summary

Purchasing Canterville Chase
As the story opens, Horace B. Otis, the brusque American minister, ignores the warnings of several English friends and buys the haunted Canterville Chase. Lord Canterville desires to sell the home but feels honor-bound to tell Otis stories of skeleton hands and mysterious noises. However, Otis refuses to believe in the existence of ghosts.

The Persistent Blood Stain
The Otis family moves into the Chase, a Tudor mansion. Mrs. Lucretia Otis, disturbed by a blood stain in the sitting-room, orders that it be removed at once. But the housekeeper, Mrs. Umney, explains that the blood stain dates back to 1575, the day Lady Eleanore de Canterville was murdered by her husband, Sir Simon, and cannot be removed. Washington Otis, the oldest son, quickly declares that Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will prove a match for even so historic a stain. Before the housekeeper can stop him, Washington drops to his knees and scrubs out the blood. Thunder and lightening greet his success, and Mrs. Umney faints in fear. The stain, however, reappears the following morning, and again Pinkerton's is applied. But each successive morning brings a new stain, and the Otises begin to believe that the Chase really is haunted.

The Ghost Appears
Several nights later, Mr. Otis awakes to the sound of clanking metal. In the hallway, he encounters a ghost with burning-red eyes, matted hair, and heavy chains. As a practical American, Mr. Otis suggests to the Ghost that Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator will quiet his chains. The Ghost, stunned by this effrontery, is further insulted as the young Otis twin boys throw pillows at his head. The Ghost retires to his chamber and ponders his past glories of terrifying housemaids and driving members of the aristocracy to madness and suicide. Refusing to be intimidated by upstart Americans, the Ghost plans his revenge. Meanwhile, the Otises discuss the Ghost and note the changing hues of the sitting-room bloodstain. Only the beautiful fifteen-year-old Virginia Otis cannot laugh as the stain mutates from red, to purple, to bright emerald green. When the Ghost next appears, the twins shoot pellets at it. But more insulting is that after the Ghost tries to scare the family with a hideous laugh, Mrs. Otis offers him Dr. Dobell's tincture to cure his indigestion.

Sickened by the experience, Sir Simon retreats for a few days before making another attempt to horrify the Otises. However, when the Ghost next...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)