illustration of a ghost standing behid an iron fence with its arm raised against a large mansion

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

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What is the history behind the blood-stain in "The Canterville Ghost" by Oscar Wilde?

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The blood stain has been on the floor near the fireplace in the sitting room of Canterville Hall since the murder of Lady Eleanore de Canterville in 1575. Lady Eleanore was killed by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, who disappeared soon after and was never seen again. His ghost now haunts the Canterville estate. According to the elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Umney, the stain has become an "admired" tourist attraction that "can't be removed."

At this point, the vigorous and modern American Otises, who have rented Canterville Hall, challenge the centuries old tradition of not disturbing the stain. The eldest son, Washington, immediately scrubs it off with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent.  

In this story, which is an unexpected twist on the traditional ghost tale, a tussle then ensues between the practical Otises, who are no respecters of tradition, and the ghost, who promptly puts the stain back in place.  



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In "The Canterville Ghost," the blood-stain in the library has a long history. According to the housekeeper, Mrs Umney, the blood-stain has existed since 1575 when the then-Lord Canterville, Sir Simon, murdered his wife, Lady Eleanore, on that exact spot in the library. In Chapter Five, during a conversation with Virginia Otis, he reveals his reasons for committing this heinous crime:

My wife was very plain, never had my ruffs properly starched, and knew nothing about cookery.

Moreover, it is one of Sir Simon's numerous responsibilities as a ghost to ensure that the blood-stain is always present. When the Otis family move in, this becomes problematic because they are constantly trying to remove it. Washington Otis removes it on several occasions, for example, using Pinkerton's Stain Remover. This forces Sir Simon to steal Virginia's paints so that he can touch up the stain every night. It is only with his death, at the end of Chapter Five, that the stain disappears forever, along with all traces of the Canterville ghost. 

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