A man from ‘modern country’, Mr Otis, bought the Canterville Chase despite being warned by Lord Canterville about the place being haunted by their resident ghost – Sir Simon.
Within a few weeks, the American family arrived at the Canterville mansion welcomed by Mrs Umney, the housekeeper. On entering the house, Mrs Otis’s eyes fell on a red stain on the floor and immediately ordered it to be cleaned. Mrs Umney tried explaining that the stain was blood belonging to Lady Eleanore de Canterville who was murdered by Sir Simon, also much admired by tourists and couldn’t be removed. But before she could convince the family, Washington, the eldest son, removed it by Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent.
By now everyone was aware of Sir Simon’s spirit but none seemed to be petrified by the idea. No ghost in history was humiliated by pillows thrown at his head, neither was he offered Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to loosen his chains.
Determined to take vengeance Sir Simon tried his best to scare the American family but failed at every attempt. His every move to take revenge brought back the joke on him. Soon the ghost became dejected and gave up hope to frighten the Otis family. Insulted and invalid he retreats to his hiding place.
Oscar Wilde explores the cultural differences between the oh-so-modern Americans and the ever- so- aristocratic British in a witty style. While Mrs Umney faints when Washington cleans the bloodstain, Mrs Otis offers him tincture to help him from digestion. The typical ancient British house now had a ghost who was terrified of a practical American family.
Towards the end, Sir Simon is helped by the daughter of the family, Virginia who pities him and prays for his soul. Even the ghost agrees that Virginia is different from the rest – “You are much nicer than the rest of your rude dishonest family.”
At the surface level, it is a horror story with a ghost, spooky atmosphere and peals of thunder. But it also teaches “what Life is, and what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.”
The book has been rated as one of the best in its category and probably the first of its kind. It is available widely and has topped the bestseller list for many years. Indeed, not all ghosts are gross, some make us laugh too.