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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The Canterville Ghost Summary

"The Canterville Ghost" is a short story by Oscar Wilde in which a girl befriends the ghost haunting Canterville Chase and helps him cross over into the afterlife.

  • Horace B. Otis and his family move into Canterville Chase, which is haunted by the ghost of Sir Simon, who killed his wife there.

  • Otis's housekeeper claims that the blood stain in the living room is from the murder. Otis cleans it up, but the stain reappears. The ghost used Virginia Otis's paints to recreate the stain.

  • Virginia chastises Sir Simon for stealing the paints, but then agrees to help him pass into the afterlife. 


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“The Canterville Ghost” begins with the sale of an old British mansion called Canterville Chase to Horace B. Otis, an American minister. Though the former owner, Lord Canterville, warns Mr. Otis that the mansion is haunted, Mr. Otis is not worried and replies that ghosts do not exist. Soon after, Mr. Otis moves into the Chase with the rest of his family: his wife, Lucretia; his eldest son, Washington; his fifteen-year-old daughter, Virginia; and his two young twin boys. Upon moving in, Mrs. Otis notices a dull red stain on the floor and requests that it be cleaned. Their housekeeper reveals that it is a bloodstain from the murder of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was killed in 1575 by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, and that it cannot be removed. She warns Mrs. Otis that Sir Simon’s guilty ghost still haunts Canterville Chase. Dismissing the housekeeper’s story as nonsense, Washington quickly pulls out a container of Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover, scrubbing it onto the spot until the stain is gone. As soon as the stain is removed, lightning flashes and a peal of thunder rocks the house. The housekeeper faints in terror.

The next morning, the Otises find that the stain has mysteriously returned. For the next few days they routinely clean the stain only to see it reappear the next morning. Intrigued, the Otis family decides that the house is, in fact, haunted. A few nights later, Mr. Otis is awakened in the middle of the night by a clanking noise. Venturing into the hallway, he encounters the ghost of Sir Simon. Rather than being frightened by Sir Simon’s glowing red eyes, matted hair, and rusty manacles, Mr. Otis politely insists that the ghost oil his chains and gives him a bottle of Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator for this purpose. Utterly humiliated, Sir Simon retreats down the hallway until he encounters the twins, who throw pillows at his head. Returning to his chamber, Sir Simon remembers his long and successful career as a ghost, fuming that never in three hundred years of haunting maids and guests has he been so insulted. Determined to scare these “wretched modern Americans,” Sir Simon stays up all night plotting his revenge.

Though the bloodstain remains, the Otises humorously note that it is changing in color on a daily basis. Virginia Otis, however, does not find the changing stain amusing and appears inexplicably distressed by it. One day, the family discovers Sir Simon in an embarrassing position: he has fallen over while trying to put on a suit of armor. The twins shoot at him with pea shooters and when Sir Simon tries to scare the family with his most evil laugh, Mrs. Otis adds insult to injury by suggesting that he may be suffering from indigestion. For several days afterward, Sir Simon is ill and keeps mostly to his room. Soon, however, he resolves to make a third attempt at scaring the Otises and picks out a suitably terrifying outfit. As he makes his way to Washington’s room, however, he is stopped by the twins, who are disguised as a ghost. Believing them to be a real ghost, Sir Simon flees in utter terror. Depressed, Sir Simon retreats from his ghostly duties, deciding not to replace the bloodstain and taking care to make himself as unnoticeable as possible. Later, when he tries to enter the twins’ room for one final shot at revenge, a rigged jug dumps water on his head, causing him to come down with a severe cold.

Having finally given up hope of ever scaring the Otis family, Sir Simon stops appearing and the members of the Otis family return to their normal lives, assuming that he has left forever. The young Duke of Cheshire falls in love with Virginia and comes to stay at the house. One day, Virginia stumbles upon the ghost as she returns from riding with the Duke. Taking pity on him, Virginia suggests that he begin behaving himself. Sir Simon replies that it is no use asking him to go against his nature as a ghost. They argue over whether or not Sir Simon was wrong to kill his wife until Virginia finally suggests that he immigrate to America to make a fresh start. Sir Simon replies that his only wish is to be able to finally sleep in the Garden of Death. He shows Virginia a prophecy that says the only way Sir Simon can finally be at peace is if Virginia weeps for his sins and prays for his soul. Virginia agrees and, taking his hand, follows him into another dimension.

When Virginia does not show up for tea, the Otis family begins to search for her in earnest, notifying the police of her disappearance and searching the grounds thoroughly. When the clock strikes midnight, the whole house shakes and Virginia suddenly appears at the top of the stairs. She tells her family that she was with Sir Simon, who is now at peace, and reveals a large box of jewels that he gave her as a gift. She then leads her family into a secret chamber and shows them the remains of Sir Simon. The family buries the remains in an elaborate ceremony. Mr. Otis tries to give the jewels to Lord Canterville, insisting that they are his rightful property, but Lord Canterville refuses them. Once the Duke comes of age, he and Virginia marry. When they visit Sir Simon’s grave after their honeymoon, the Duke asks Virginia what really happened when she went away with Sir Simon. Declining to fully answer, she only tells him that the ghost taught her the meaning of life, love, and death.

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