The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
With the advent of Christmas season, one’s thoughts naturally turn to sugar plum fairies. And ghosts.
What, Christmas doesn’t conjure spectral images for you? There’s a precedent. Think A Christmas Carol, now a standard eighth grade December read.
Since I was short of time this month–who isn’t?–I went searching for a shorter example of ghost fiction. Imagine my surprise when my quest turned up The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Wallace Goldsmith. (The cover below is illustrated by Inga Moore.)
Something you should know about me is that I’m an easy date. If you ever want to entice me away from hearth and home, just inform me that one of my lifetime favorite plays has hit town–The Importance of Being Earnest by, you guessed it, Oscar Wilde.
So it was with considerable joy that I loaded a free version of The Canterville Ghost onto my kindle. Hold that thought. We’re going to discuss versions shortly.
The story is gently satirical. From Wilde we expect no less. In this novelette, cultures bump (clash is too strong as all is oh-so-civilized) when the nouveau riche American Otis family buys an old English estate. The previous owners, an upper crust family headed by Lord Canterville, have fled to escape a ghost that has haunted the mansion for centuries.
With delightful hyperbole, Wilde depicts no nonsense Yankee practicality. The Americans don’t believe in ghosts, and even when facing the recalcitrant ghost himself, admonish him to oil his chains so as not to disturb sleeping family members. When the befuddled ghost becomes depressed, it is up to kind-hearted daughter Virginia to befriend him.
This is a delightful read and would make a great introduction to ghost literature for young people. And like the best young adult works, the adults will enjoy the experience just as much. There are probably eight or ten different editions of this book, two of which are illustrated by Wallace Goldsmith. (The link above is to one of the Goldsmith versions.) For gift giving and even personal consumption, I recommend one of the illustrated editions. Definitely.
To give you a flavor of the book, I will end with a quote from the character Lord Canterville: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”