The Canterville Ghost and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde

Review published on November 1, 2016.

For three hundred years Sir Simon de Canterville, the Canterville ghost, has been very successful at scaring people who live in his old home. However, when the house bought by a down-to-earth American family Mr and Mrs Otis, their eldest son Washington, their gentle daughter Virginia and their twin sons, Stars and Stripes (because they were “always getting switched”!) things begin to change. Following his first attempt to scare the family he is stunned and affronted when Mr Otis produces a bottle of lubricating oil and suggests that this should be applied to his rusty, clanking chains. His continuing attempts to intimidate the family are met with equally practical actions – the easy removal of a centuries-old blood stain from the carpet, the offer of a tincture for his “indigestion” when his demonic laughter fails to have the desired effect. In addition to these indignities he has to put up with being the target of some rather delinquent behaviour from the twins, including having pillows thrown at him, being pelted with pellets from their pea-shooters and being tripped up by the wires they set to catch him! Although he increases his efforts to scare the family, he soon has to face up to the fact that his reign of terror is under threat and he becomes very depressed. Virginia is the only member of the family who comes to feel sorry for him and to want to help him find peace.

I loved this wonderful ghost story, with its different twist and with its satirical observations on the differences between the English and the Americans. In parts it was very, very humorous but it was also quite thought-provoking in its sympathetic examination of what can happen to a person (albeit a ghost!) when faced with rejection and a series of unpredictable and unfamiliar responses. I particularly enjoyed the ending which, although the stuff of fairy tales, leaves the reader with a sense of a mystery – classic Wilde!

In addition to the Canterville Ghost there are three more delightful stories in this collection. The Sphinx Without a Secret, in which a man is attracted to a woman who appears to have a secret life which she will not share with him, thus making her allure all the more potent. The story is a wonderful exploration of the unpredictability of love and relationships, of how the chase is often more exciting than “capture” and an example of how the idea that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” is not a novel concept!

The Model Millionaire is about an impoverished, but rather indolent young man who has recently proposed to his girlfriend. However, in view of his impecunious state, he has been told by her father that he must acquire a fortune of ten thousand pounds before he will be allowed to marry her. As a result of an act of unselfish kindness his life is transformed. This is a delightful, well-observed story, with a strong moral message, delivered with Wild’s hallmark wit.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, the longest of these stories is about a young man who has his palm read and decides that until he can carry out what Fate had decreed for him, he must postpone his marriage to his fiancée. He is convinced that to do otherwise would jeopardise his future life with her. His attempts to fulfil his destiny lead him into a number of hilariously farcical situations. Whilst it is necessary to suspend disbelief for a time, the story is engaging, full of laugh out loud moments, as well as some very dark humour. It is a highly entertaining piece which deserves to be made into a film!

As a long time admirer of Oscar Wilde’s wonderful prose I am amazed that I had never come across any of these short stories before being sent this wonderful edition by Alma Classics! All the stories are full of his ultra-sharp observations of life and human fallibility, his trademark, acerbic wit and a wonderful glimpse into how he regarded the world he inhabited.

This edition is part of the Young Adult Classics (12+) series produced by Alma Classics and contains some excellent notes and a comprehensive glossary. In addition there is “extra material for young readers” which includes some biographical details as well as information about the stories. I am delighted to think that a new generation of readers is being encouraged to delight in the work of such a wonderful writer.

Linda Hepworth 5/4

The Canterville Ghost and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
Alma Young Adult Classics 978-1-84749-612-6 pbk October 2016

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