The Canterville Ghost Questions and Answers
by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Who are the main characters in Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost?

Expert Answers info

Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write4,089 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

The characters in Oscar Wilde’s story The Canterville Ghost include Mr. Hiram B. Otis, “the American Minister,” whose family moves into Canterville Chase, his wife, teenage daughter Virginia, son Washington and twin boys referred to as “The Star and Stripes,” who Wilde describes as “delightful boys, and, with the exception of the worthy Minister, the only true republicans of the family.”  In addition, and of some significance given the plot and title of The Canterville Ghost, “Sir Simon,” the apparition, plays a major role in Wilde’s gothic, comedic story.  Lord Canterville, “a man of the most punctilious honour,” agrees to let his mansion to the Otis family, but with the proviso that the house is haunted.  As Lord Canterville explains to Mr. Otis,

“We have not cared to live in the place ourselves . . . since my grandaunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton, was frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for dinner . . .”

Virginia is described as “a little girl of fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large blue eyes.”  Virginia’s character, and the fact that she is the only member of the Otis family to develop a cordial and productive relationship with the ghost, is presented as a strong, independent figure:

“She was a wonderful Amazon, and had once raced old Lord Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a half . . .”

The oldest of the children is Washington, christened as such

“ . . . in a moment of patriotism . . . was a fair-haired, rather good-looking young man, who had qualified himself for American diplomacy by leading the German at the Newport Casino for three successive seasons, and even in London was well known as an excellent dancer.”

Plus, it should be noted, Washington, despite his passion for gardenias and his peerage, “was extremely sensible.”

Mrs. Otis, prior to marriage, had been a “celebrated New York belle” and was now “a very handsome, middle-aged woman, with fine eyes, and superb profile.”  She is a woman of formidable character whose transition from her native New York to London does not diminish her spirit:  “She had a magnificent constitution, and a really wonderful amount of animal spirits.”

Mr. Otis is similarly not a person with which to trifle.  Lord Canterbury’s admonishment regarding the presence in the house of a ghost is treated by Otis with derision:

“There is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.”

Wilde has the stage now for a conflict between the strong-willed intelligent family on one side and an insecure ghost on the other.  As the story progresses, the ghost becomes increasingly agitated by its failure to frighten the Otis family.  On top of his failure to scare the family, the ghost endures the indignity of being the victim of practical jokes orchestrated by the twins.  The ghost, Sir Simon de Canterville before his death, allegedly murdered his wife in the house and his spirit is condemned to haunt the premises until his soul is redeemed through acts of contrition on the part of those around him.  As he laments his situation to Virginia, he states in despair:

“ . . .you must weep with me for my sins, because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I have no faith. . .”

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial