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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Discussion Topic

The history and significance of the bloodstain in "The Canterville Ghost" and its impact on the characters

Summary:

In "The Canterville Ghost," the bloodstain symbolizes the unresolved murder of Lady Eleanor by Sir Simon. Its appearance and reappearance unsettle the Otis family, highlighting the ghost's presence and his attempts to frighten them. However, the family's pragmatic reactions to the stain, such as using stain remover, underscore their modern skepticism and contrast with Sir Simon's historical torment.

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What is the housekeeper's brief history of the blood-stain in "The Canterville Ghost"?

In Chapter One of "The Canterville Ghost," Mrs Otis, one of the new tenants of Canterville Chase, spots a "dull red stain" on the floor of the library. This prompts Mrs Umney, the housekeeper, to reveal that the stain is, in fact, human blood and that it was spilt under horrifying circumstances.

According to Mrs Umney, the stain dates back to 1575 when Lady Eleanore was murdered on "that very spot" by Sir Simon de Canterville, her husband. Mrs Umney does not reveal the motive for the murder, but she goes on to say that Sir Simon died nine years after his wife, in 1584, in "very mysterious circumstances" and that his body was never found.

Finally, because the stain cannot be removed, Mrs Umney notes that the blood-stain has become a very popular sight among tourists and visitors to the house and that the "guilty" spirit of Sir Simon still haunts Canterville Chase.

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What is the history of the blood stain in The Canterville Ghost?

In the first chapter of "The Canterville Ghost," the Otis family moves into Canterville Chase and are welcomed to the house by the housekeeper, Mrs. Unmey. Shortly after their arrival, Mrs. Otis notices a "dull red stain" on the floor in the library which she thinks is a spillage. Mrs. Unmney informs her that the stain is, in fact, the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on "that very spot" by her husband, Sir Simon, in 1575. 

The motivations for this murder are revealed to the reader in Chapter Five during a conversation between Sir Simon and Virginia Otis:

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

In other words, Sir Simon murdered his wife because she was not attractive and poor at housekeeping. In retaliation, Lady Eleanore's brothers starved Sir Simon to death and he has haunted Canterville Chase ever since.

The blood stain, therefore, functions as a visual reminder and a symbol of Sir Simon's crime against his wife. It cannot be removed until Sir Simon has sought redemption and this is demonstrated by its daily renewal, despite the use of strong cleaners, like Pinkerton's Stain Remover. But all this changes when Sir Simon seeks forgiveness from God, in Chapter Five, and is granted eternal rest in the Garden of Death. Canterville Chase is finally free of his ghost and, presumably, the blood stain has vanished along with him.

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What are the different reactions to the recurring bloodstain in "The Canterville Ghost"?

Mrs. Umney, the British housekeeper, and the Otises at first have very different responses to the bloodstain on the library floor. Mrs. Umney is sure it is the blood of the murdered Lady Eleanore de Canterville, left by the ghost who has long been haunting the hall. She says the stain can't be rubbed out. The American Otises are sure this is nonsense. They don't believe in ghosts and take a practical approach to the stain, rubbing it off with Paragon detergent.

However, when the stain reappears day after day, even after the Otises lock up the library at night, they begin to get more "interested." Mr. and Mrs. Otis begin to reconsider their denial of the existence of spirits. Their belief in ghosts is confirmed when they see the Canterville ghost with their own eyes. However, unlike the British, they are not afraid of it, a response that throws the ghost completely off kilter.

This is a sweet story about a ghost who is able to get to his final rest through the help of the pure Virginia, but it is also a comic send-up of cultural differences between Americans and the British. In the late nineteenth century, when Wilde was writing, more and more wealthy Americans were coming to Britain, bringing their different cultural outlook to the forefront—something he satirizes in this tale.

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Why is the blood stain in the library significant in "The Canterville Ghost"?

When the American Otis family moves into Canterville Chase, they find a blood stain on the library floor. It is a matter of interest because the housekeeper says it can't be removed. She explains that it is the blood of Lady Canterville, who was murdered by her husband on that spot in 1575.

The Otis family thinks this is nonsense. The eldest son, Washington, scrubs the stain away with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover. However, the next day the stain reappears. They scrub it out, and it again reappears in the morning, even after they lock the door to the library. At this point they are perplexed and concerned.

The family was warned when they rented the hall that it was haunted by a ghost. They had dismissed that idea as ridiculous because, being pragmatic Americans, they didn't believe in ghosts. Now they are beginning to believe that the ghost might be real.

In fact, Mr. Otis does encounter the ghost, but he is not afraid of it and neither is the rest of the family. They also become amused that the stain on the library floor changes color, ending up finally to be emerald green.

Ultimately, the ghost becomes the frightened and distressed one, not the family.

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What is the history of the blood-stain in "The Canterville Ghost"?

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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What is the history of the blood-stain in "The Canterville Ghost"?

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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What is the history of the bloodstain in The Canterville Ghost and why does the ghost repair it?

Early in Oscar Wilde’s novella The Canterville Ghost, the Otis family is being shown through the estate of the Canterville family, a large, palatial home with a library befitting the aristocracic lineage of the Canterville family. That history, however, includes the murder of Lady Eleanor Canterville at the hands of her husband, the titular character who now haunts the estate. It is while touring the library that Mrs. Otis notices the bloodstain on the floor near the fireplace. Her discovery precipitates a series of actions and reactions that demonstrates the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville’s appreciation for family history and the imperative of maintaining the home precisely as it existed upon his demise.

The Canterville Ghost is about the interactions between an American family lacking the history and eccentricities of the English and the ghost that haunts the house in which they are residing. It is from the stark contrast between the ghost’s “Old World” ways and the Otis family’s “New World” pragmatism that Wilde’s narrative derives its humor. The Canterville Ghost makes telling observations regarding the “old” and “new” worlds, and the bloodstain serves as one of the story’s main instruments with which the author illustrates those contrasts.

The bloodstain, as the elderly housekeeper Mrs. Umney states, was from the death of Lady Eleanor Canterville at the hands of her husband, Sir Simon, now a ghost condemned to haunt the structure. The bloodstain has since become a colorful feature of the home until the Otis family enters the picture. Ignoring Mrs. Umney’s observation that “the blood-stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed," the family immediately prepares to remove the blood from the floor using modern cleaning formulas. As the story continues, however, the bloodstain reappears every morning after being removed by the Otis’s, a fact eventually attributed to the ghost’s tenacity in preserving the bloodstain as a landmark. Indeed, undoing the Otis family’s repeated efforts at permanently removing the stain remains the ghost’s obsession, continuing his efforts even when feeling sick (“For some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly stirred out of his room at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper repair.”) As Wilde’s narrator points out, the ghost even targets Washington Otis for special treatment because of the latter’s role in continuously removing the new stains.

The reappearance of the “bloodstain" every morning, as the reader discovers, is the product of the ghost’s use of the Otis children’s paints to fabricate a new stain, which explains the stain’s evolving colors. Eventually, however, the ghost tires of this exercise, having succumbed to the children’s taunts and tricks:

“The next day the ghost was very weak and tired. The terrible excitement of the last four weeks was beginning to have its effect. His nerves were completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise. For five days he kept his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point of the blood-stain on the library floor. If the Otis family did not want it, they clearly did not deserve it. They were evidently people on a low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena.”

The ghost continues to repair the bloodstain because it is, to him and to the housekeeper, a part of the house’s character. Americans, the ghost concludes, lack the upper-class sensibilities of the English aristocracy. They are unrefined and undeserving of the heritage the bloodstain represents.

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What is the history of the bloodstain in The Canterville Ghost and why does the ghost repair it?

In Chapter One of "The Canterville Ghost," Mrs Umney informs the Otis family of the history of the famous bloodstain. It is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on "that very spot" by her husband, Sir Simon, in 1575. Later, in Chapter Five, the reader leans that Sir Simon murdered Eleanore because she was "very plain" and poor at housekeeping. She never starched his ruffs properly, for example, nor did she properly serve a buck that he had shot. 

Because of its personal history, Sir Simon, the ghost, goes to great pains to preserve his wife's bloodstain in the library. After Washington Otis removes it with Pinkerton's Stain Remover, the family finds that the bloodstain has reappeared every morning. Virginia Otis later learns (in Chapter Five) that the ghost stole her paints so that he could "furbish up" the stain each night. This also explains why the stain appears in different colours, including vermilion and emerald green. 

The bloodstain, then, is a physical reminder of Sir Simon's past crimes and of the house's murderous history. It also acts as a barrier to Sir Simon's eternal rest: the stain cannot be truly removed until the ghost repents of his sins and has left Canterville Chase.

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What is the backstory of the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost"?

The ghost that your question is referencing is Sir Simon de Canterville.  He was one of the first owners of the Canterville Chase, which is the mansion that the Otis family has just bought.  The text tells the reader that Sir Simon owned the home in 1575.  He was married at the time, but wasn't married for the following nine years.  The reason for that is because Sir Simon murdered his wife that year.  He lived for another 9 years after that, disappeared mysteriously, and was never seen or heard from again.  

"His body has never been discovered, but his guilty spirit still haunts the Chase."

Sir Simon has been haunting the Canterville Chase ever since, and has successfully scared off every owner.  That is until the Otis family arrives, and he is incapable of scaring them off.  Virginia Otis eventually gets Sir Simon to explain why he mysteriously disappeared.  

Sir Simon killed his wife for being too plain. Of course her brothers didn't take too kindly to Sir Simon killing their sister, so they killed Sir Simon in revenge.  

"However, it is no matter now, for it is all over, and I don't think it was very nice of her brothers to starve me to death, though I did kill her."

He has been haunting the house ever since his own murder. 

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