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 a character sketch of the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost"?


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A character sketch of the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost" can include that the ghost is proud of his history, enjoys frightening people, and is theatrical. When he cannot frighten the Otis family, he becomes angry and dejected, and wishes to be released into death.

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Sir Simon de Canterville of Oscar Wilde's delightful story “The Canterville Ghost” is a ghostly actor extraordinaire. He has a strong theatrical streak that makes him take great pleasure in scaring people, yet he must do so in exactly the right way for each circumstance. He dresses each part meticulously, whether he is “The Vampire Monk, or the Bloodless Benedictine,” “Jonas the Graveless, or the Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,” or “Reckless Rupert, or the Headless Earl.” To him, the show is a success if his frightful tactics make someone's wig turn white or a woman faint in horror. Of course, sometimes Sir Simon's antics take a graver mien, and he has actually scared many people literally to death.

That said, however, Sir Simon is not especially malicious. He was wicked in life, to be sure, for he killed his own wife in 1575, an act that lead to his own death at the hands of her family in 1584. Admittedly, too, he does find his most frightful hauntings to be his greatest successes. Yet Sir Simon has a soft spot in his character, even a weakness, and this reveals itself when he cannot scare the Otis family. No matter how hard he tries (and he tries very hard), he always ends up looking ridiculous rather than frightening. What's more, the twins even manage to give him several frights that take the ghostly wind out of his sails and send him into a deep depression. What good is a ghost who cannot scare people?

This is the state in which Virginia finds Sir Simon in the Tapestry Chamber. He is forlorn and filled with melancholy, and even more, he longs for peace. Virginia is probably the first person who has been kind to him in over three hundred years, and he drinks in her kindness, admitting that he has been lonely, unhappy, and sleepless for so very long. He finds the humility to ask the sympathetic Virginia to help him find rest and to fulfill the old prophecy, and she agrees. Virginia performs her role with courage and love; Sir Simon finally finds his rest; and Virginia learns the truth about death, life, love, and ghosts.

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Wilde tells the reader that Sir Simon de Canterville murdered his wife in the sixteenth century. Approximately three hundred years later, however, there is nothing particularly bloodthirsty about his ghost, which haunts Canterville Chase, and takes a purely artistic pleasure in frightening people. In part two of the story, the ghost recalls his past triumphs just as an elderly actor might review his career on the stage. His reaction to the practical, prosaic attitude of the Otis family is to be insulted at their lack of sensibility, and to try even harder to win them over to his poetic vision of what a haunted house ought to be.

It is the poetic element in the ghost's nature that leads him to confide in Virginia Otis, telling her that she is "much nicer than the rest of your horrid, rude, vulgar, dishonest family." Virginia is pure, beautiful, and sympathetic, and she understands, as the rest of the family does not, the ghost's sublimated desire for eternal rest. The final picture the reader has of the ghost is that of a rather pathetic, even a tragic figure, doing what he conceives as the duty of a ghost, and coming to revel in the theatrical aspect of it. All the time, however, his restless soul is yearning for "the Garden of Death," but he has never come close enough to anyone to confess this until Virginia befriends him.

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The ghost, Sir Simon, is badly misunderstood. By making Sir Simon a more rounded character than the average ghost, Wilde turns stereotypes about ghosts on their heads.

We learn that Sir Simon, while he feels an obligation to do his duty by trying to frighten the Otis family, really would prefer to be released from the job. In fact, he ends up more frightened of the prankster Otis twins then they are of him.

We find out about his sensitivity when Virginia talks to him and learns he wants nothing more than to be released to die. He shows vulnerability when he confides in her that he needs someone pure, like her, to pray for him so that he can go to his final rest. He is not so much terrifying, as we normally imagine a ghost, as sad.

We know that he likes to dress up, showing a theatrical side.

One interpretation is that he is a portrait of Wilde himself, who felt misunderstood and "othered" because of his homosexuality. Wilde liked to dress up and was a sought-after guest for society hostesses because of his ability to be entertaining. Underneath, however, like the ghost, he suffered.

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Sir Simon, or the ghost, is the namesake and major character in "The Canterville Ghost." He has roamed the interior of Canterville Chase since his death in 1584 and is a very complex and emotional character, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the ghost is fiercely proud of his personal history. He boasts, for example, of his success at the Kenilworth Tournament and the compliment paid to his suit of armour by Queen Elizabeth I. He loves to reminisce about his "brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years" as the resident ghost of Canterville Chase. These recollections border on egotism, as the narrator states in Chapter 3, but are central to understanding the delight he feels at being able to scare others. 

Secondly, the ghost has a theatrical nature which he expresses through his hauntings. He does this by creating characters, like the "Red Reuben" and the "Gaunt Gibeon," routines that he has developed to aid him in terrifying the residents of Canterville Chase.

His failure to terrify the Otis family, however, gives us a glimpse into a darker side of the ghost's character. In the beginning he becomes angry and determined to have his revenge. But, as his failures increase, his character softens and becomes more vulnerable. The opening of Chapter Four sums this up succinctly: "the ghost was very weak and tired...his nerves were completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise." In other words, when the ghost is not fulfilling his purpose, he quickly becomes dejected and feels that he is not appreciated by those around him. 

When he begs Virginia Otis to pray for him, so that he might have eternal peace, we see another important aspect of his character: the ability to be repentant and humble. 

The ghost is, therefore, not at all how one might imagine a ghost to be. He is other-worldly, yet strangely human. He exudes pride and vanity, yet is vulnerable and feels a strong urge to repent of his past crimes. 


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What is a character sketch of Mr. Otis in "The Canterville Ghost"?  

Mr Otis is clearly forceful and direct. He openly speaks his mind as illustrated when he speaks to Lord Canterbury about the ghost. He tells the lord that if such a thing existed, it would be used in a roadshow or put on display in a museum. This further indicates that he is not at all superstitious and is a realist, one who deals with things as they are and does not believe in fantasy or any such mumbo-jumbo. He is entirely matter-of-fact with regard to whatever he is told. This aspect is displayed in the manner in which he responds to Mrs Umney's fainting, suggesting that she should be penalized financially for breakages in service if she should repeatedly faint.

Mr Otis comes across as very patriotic. He is also loyal to his party as he is described as a 'true republican.' As a minister, it is obvious that he should display these qualities, but he took it a step further by naming his oldest son Washington. The mocking reference to the twins as 'The Stars and Stripes,' also alludes to the to the American flag.

Mr Otis evidently is a fearless man. This is most pertinently illustrated in his many confrontations with the ghost. In his first encounter with the supernatural entity, for example, he does not panic or become afraid. He, instead, treats the phantom as he would any ordinary person. He, furthermore, dispenses advice and suggests that the spirit oil its chains since they make so much noise. This also shows that he is a practical man who would readily seek solutions to problems.

Another character trait the minister exhibits is the fact that he is prepared to admit that he is wrong and is willing to change his mind. This becomes evident when he changes his opinion about the ghost and accepts its existence. The manner in which he deals with it also emphasizes his practical, hands-on nature - he suggests later, for example, that they would have to remove the ghost's chains from him if he refuses to use the oil he had been offered to lessen the noise they made.

The text also identifies Mr Otis as studious and open-minded. He has been preparing a 'great work' on the history of the Democratic Party, even though he is also called a 'true republican.' It is also apparent that he cares much for his family for, when Virginia disappeared, he did everything he possibly could to find her and, in the process also took care of his wife. The minister is also, obviously, not a materialistic person. When they found precious jewels which the ghost had given Virginia, he insisted that Lord Canterville should take possession of them and was quite distraught when the lord refused. He eventually acceded to Canterville's request that Virginia should be the owner.

Finally, it is evident that the minister is a down-to-earth man. He does not, throughout the story, claim any privileges by virtue of his title and seems to have a reasonably neutral opinion of the gentry. He shows and speaks about them as he would of any other, but does seem to be somewhat dismissive of the pomposity that is a characteristic of this class, as he informs Lord Canterville in their discussion about the jewels:

I feel sure that you will recognize how impossible it would be for me to allow them to remain in the possession of any member of my family; and, indeed, all such vain gauds and toys, however suitable or necessary to the dignity of the British aristocracy, would be completely out of place among those who have been brought up on the severe, and I believe immortal, principles of Republican simplicity.

This is further confirmed in a later statement:

Mr. Otis was extremely fond of the young Duke personally, but, theoretically, he objected to titles, and, to use his own words, "was not without apprehension lest, amid the enervating influences of a pleasure-loving aristocracy, the true principles of Republican simplicity should be forgotten."

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What is a character sketch of Mr. Otis in "The Canterville Ghost"?  

Mr. Hiram B. Otis is an American minister who buys Canterville Chase at the beginning of the story. Here are some of his character attributes:

  • Mr. Otis is sceptical of the supernatural. This is shown most clearly in the opening chapter when he states that he believes in the "laws of Nature" and not Lord Canterville's stories about a ghost.
  • Despite persistent warnings from Lord Canterville about the ghost, Mr. Otis refuses to believe him and this demonstrates his stubbornness, another key attribute.
  • Mr. Otis is also a practical man. In Chapter Two, for example, he offers the ghost some Tammany Sun Rising Lubricator with which to oil his chains. In addition, when Virginia goes missing in Chapter Six, Mr. Otis takes charge of the situation: he checks every room in the house before organising an external search of the grounds and nearby village.
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What is a character sketch of Virginia from "The Canterville Ghost"?

Virginia in "The Canterville Ghost" is empathic, compassionate, active, courageous, gentle and pure. While her parents take a practical approach to the Ghost, scrubbing out the blood stains he leaves on the library floor with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent, and while the Otis twins play mean jokes on the Ghost, Virginia shows her empathy by actually interacting with him. 

The Ghost notes "she had never insulted him in any way," and when she finds him in the Tapestry room, he looks so "forlorn" and "out of repair" that rather than run away, she is "filled with pity and determined to try and comfort him." She offers him a sandwich and when he tells her he has not slept in 300 years, "her little lips trembled like rose leaves." In this scene, she shows her empathy, not only pitying him but feeling his pain. She feels compassionate toward him as well, calling him "poor, poor Ghost."

She reveals her courage and compassion when she agrees to weep and pray for the Ghost to help him go to his final rest, even though it will mean seeing "fearful shapes in the darkness" and hearing "wicked voices." "I am not afraid," she says.

She shows she is active in two ways: first, she is an "Amazon" in the way she rides her horse around the Canterville grounds, but more importantly, she is willing to pray, weep and face demons to help the Ghost. As the saying goes, she "puts her money where her mouth is."

Finally, all through the story she is described as pure and gentle. Her name, Virginia, is both "all American" and contains "virgin," a word that connotes purity. It is her purity that makes it possible for her to intervene for the Ghost effectively. The Ghost calls her "gentle," and her actions in the story show a heart that wants to do the right thing with no thought of herself or of personal gain. She doesn't even want to keep the jewels the Ghost gives her, only the empty casket they came in. 

Virginia falls into the category of the Victorian "angel of the home," the pure female who can redeem the sins of others through her gentleness, faith and compassion. 

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Provide a character sketch of the ghost from "The Canterville Ghost."  

Sir Simon, also known as the ghost, is one of the main characters in the story, "The Canterville Ghost." One of the strongest impressions of Sir Simon is that he has criminal tendencies. When he was alive, for example, he murdered his wife, Lady Eleanore, in the library of Canterville Chase because she was "very plain" in appearance and not a good housekeeper. 

In addition, Sir Simon is very proud of his earthly achievements. This is supported by his affections towards the suit of armour. He proudly recalls how he wore this at a tournament in Kenilworth and that Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, had complimented it. This feeling of pride also extends to his achievements in the afterlife. He is gleeful, for example, when he recalls some of the people he has frightened at Canterville Chase. He appeared to the Dowager Duchess, for instance, by placing his skeleton hands on her shoulders as she dressed for dinner. She was so terrified that she fell into a "fit" for some weeks after. Similarly, Madame de Tremouillac was "confined to her bed for six weeks" after Sir Simon appeared to her as a skeleton while reading her diary by the fire. 

But Sir Simon exhibits vulnerabilities, too. He is easily hurt and humiliated by the Otis family, for example, when his attempts at scaring them completely fail. The twins fire their pea-shooters at him, Mrs Otis offers him a tincture for his throat and Washington hems him in with a "garden syringe." Despite donning his most infamous and scary costumes, he cannot make them frightened of him and this causes him to experience a deep depression. 

But this depression leads to the story's climax because it forces Sir Simon to confront his bad deeds and seek redemption in the Garden of Death. To do this, he successfully appeals to Virginia Otis who follows him through the wall of the Tapestry Chamber. There, she sheds tears for Sir Simon and he is granted the gift of eternal rest. 

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Give a brief character sketch of the Canterville ghost.  

Sir Simon, also known as the Canterville Ghost, has a number of key character attributes. Here are a few examples:

  • He is impatient with people. The ghost killed his own wife because she was not a good housekeeper, for instance, and is vexed by the "gross materialism" of Mrs Otis.
  • The ghost is nostalgic and loves to think about his previous successful hauntings. When he fails to frighten Mr Otis in Chapter Two, for instance, the ghost's mind immediately turns to his past victims, like the Madame de Tremouillac who had an attack of "brain fever" after waking up to find the ghost reading her diary.
  • He is deeply affected by his failure to frighten the Otis family. He becomes depressed, for example, and confines himself to his room. By Chapter Five, he is so forlorn that he seeks eternal rest in the Garden of Death. 

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