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

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

Start Free Trial

How does the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost" describe his living years to Virginia?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Though Sir Simon is a prominent figure in the story, the reader doesn't really ever know that much about him.  We know some details from characters like Mrs. Umney, but we aren't sure if what she says about the ghost is absolute fact or not.  Throughout the story, readers get to see what the ghost is attempting to do to the Otis family and how the Otis family antagonizes Sir Simon right back; however, those things don't give readers any insight into what his life was like before he became a ghost.  

That changes in section five of the story.  Section five begins with Virginia stumbling across Sir Simon pouting by the window.  

To her immense surprise, however, it was the Canterville Ghost himself! He was sitting by the window, watching the ruined gold of the yellowing trees fly through the air, and the red leaves dancing madly down the long avenue. His head was leaning on his hand, and his whole attitude was one of extreme depression. 

Readers are told that he looked so pathetic that Virginia couldn't help but begin a conversation with him.  Early in the conversation, Virginia mentions that she knows that Sir Simon killed his wife when he was alive.  Sir Simon completely embraces the fact that he killed his wife.  

"Mrs. Umney told us, the first day we arrived here, that you had killed your wife."

"Well, I quite admit it," said the Ghost, petulantly, "but it was a purely family matter, and concerned no one else."

Sir Simon essentially feels that his actions were completely justified and normal. He provides Virginia with further "evidence" as to why his wife deserved to be killed.  He says that she was "plain" looking, not good at laundry, and not a good cook.  

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

The final detail that Sir Simon reveals about his past life is how he died.  His wife's brothers starved him to death.  

From their brief conversation, it seems that Sir Simon's life is vaguely similar to his life as a ghost.  He is used to being the person that is running the show.  He enjoys exerting his power and opinion over other people, and he doesn't care who he hurts or offends while doing it.  That's why he sees no problem with killing his wife for minor offenses, and it's why he believes that he is justified in haunting the house all these years.  

"It is absurd asking me to behave myself," he answered, looking round in astonishment at the pretty little girl who had ventured to address him, "quite absurd."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter Five of "The Canterville Ghost," Virginia and the ghost have a full and frank discussion about his life before death. The ghost reveals some shocking details, including the murder of his wife, Lady Eleanore. The ghost feels no remorse for this crime and, in fact, justifies it by saying that she was "very plain" and "knew nothing about cookery." On one occasion, for example, Sir Simon shot a buck in Hogley Woods and his wife did not have it properly prepared for serving on the table. This was evidently a cause of social embarrassment.

In addition, the ghost also reveals to Virginia the cause of his death. He was starved by Lady Eleanore's brothers in retaliation for her murder. 

Despite his criminal background, Virginia is keen to help the ghost atone for his sins so that he can leave Canterville Chase and sleep forever in the Garden of Death. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial