The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Reviewed by Jane / Fleur Fisher

the_canterville_ghost_1My mother, when she was a very small girl, was given a beautiful copy of The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde. She loved that book, she read it many times, and she saved it to pass on to her children. I still have that book, and I think I love it just as much as she did.

When I read The Picture of Dorian Grey I was smitten, and I was so disappointed that Oscar Wilde had left the world no more novels that I could read. I completely forgot that there were more short stories, until this attractive little volume from the Hesperus Press appeared.

It is a very little book – just 104 pages, containing two short and one very, very short short stories. But it’s a little book with substance, and, though it is so readable that it is easy to read very quickly, it rewards careful reading because the story telling is subtle and there are interesting little touches as well as very obvious pleasures in these stories.

The Canterville Ghost haunted Canterville Chase for more than three hundred years, but things changed when his home was sold to an American family. Lubricating oil was proffered when he clanked his chains, detergents were deployed when he left bloodstains, and young children aimed their peashooters whenever they caught sight of him. He deployed every trick he had in his armoury, but nothing worked. One final, desperate act had unexpected consequences, and led to exactly the right ending. There’s so much here – gentle but knowing satire of English and American attitudes, real pathos in the plight of the ghost, and a lovely thread of romance – it all works together beautifully.

Then there’s the story of a crime – Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – and it’s quite different from the story of the ghost, but every bit as good. It tells of an honest young man, who is on the verge of marriage when he is shaken by a palm-reading at a party. He leaves convinced that he is destined to commit a murder, and he decides that he must be practical, he must take steps to kill somebody before he marries.  He makes plans, he takes action, but the way that events play out is not what he expected at all. It’s an intriguing story of an engaging hero, it’s a well-pitched social satire, and the sting in the tail was lovely

The Sphinx without a Secret is a simple but thoughtful tale, of a woman who creates mystery around her when maybe there is no mystery at all. It’s a nice coda, but no more than that.

I was sorry to reach the end of the book, but I know now that there are more stories out there.

This is a very little book, but sometimes a little book is just what you need. And I do think that these three stories, beautifully written and cleverly executed, would be a lovely treat for any reader on a dark, winter evening.

holly

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost.  (Hesperus Press: London, 2014). 978-1843915287, 144 pp., paperback.

Jane Carter lives on the Cornish coast with a lot of books and one small, brown dog. She blogs at ‘Fleur in her World’ (http://fleurfisher.wordpress.com).

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