Chapter I.

When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted. Indeed, Lord Canterville himself, who was a man of the most punctilious honour, had felt it his duty to mention the fact to Mr. Otis when they came to discuss terms.

"We have not cared to live in the place ourselves," said Lord Canterville, "since my grandaunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton, was frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for dinner, and I feel bound to tell you, Mr. Otis, that the ghost has been seen by several living members of my family, as well as by the rector of the parish, the Rev. Augustus Dampier, who is a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. After the unfortunate accident to the Duchess, none of our younger servants would stay with us, and Lady Canterville often got very little sleep at night, in consequence of the mysterious noises that came from the corridor and the library."

"My Lord," answered the Minister, "I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation. I have come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy; and with all our spry young fellows painting the Old World red, and carrying off your best actors and prima-donnas, I reckon that if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we'd have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show."

"I fear that the ghost exists," said Lord Canterville, smiling, "though it may have resisted the overtures of your enterprising impresarios. It has been well known for three centuries, since 1584 in fact, and always makes its appearance before the death of any member of our family."

"Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville. But there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy."

"You are certainly very natural in America," answered Lord Canterville, who did not quite understand Mr. Otis's last observation, "and if you don't mind a ghost in the house, it is all right. Only you must remember I warned you."

A few weeks after this, the purchase was concluded, and at the close of the season the Minister and his family went down to Canterville Chase. Mrs. Otis, who, as Miss Lucretia R. Tappan, of West 53d Street, had been a celebrated New York belle, was now a very handsome, middle-aged woman, with fine eyes, and a superb profile. Many American ladies on leaving their native land adopt an appearance of chronic ill-health, under the impression that it is a form of European refinement, but Mrs. Otis had never fallen into this error. She had a magnificent constitution, and a really wonderful amount of animal spirits. Indeed, in many respects, she was quite English, and was an excellent example of the fact that we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language. Her eldest son, christened Washington by his parents in a moment of patriotism, which he never ceased to regret, was a fair-haired, rather good-looking young man, who had qualified himself for American diplomacy by leading the German at the Newport Casino for three successive seasons, and even in London was well known as an excellent dancer. Gardenias and the peerage were his only weaknesses. Otherwise he was extremely sensible. Miss Virginia E. Otis was a little girl of fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large blue eyes. She was a wonderful Amazon, and had once raced old Lord Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a half, just in front of the Achilles statue, to the huge delight of the young Duke of Cheshire, who proposed for her on the spot, and was sent back to Eton that very night by his guardians, in floods of tears. After Virginia came the twins, who were usually called "The Star and Stripes," as they were always getting swished. They were delightful boys, and, with the exception of the worthy Minister, the only true republicans of the family.

As Canterville Chase is seven miles from Ascot, the nearest railway station, Mr. Otis had telegraphed for a waggonette to meet them, and they started on their drive in high spirits. It was a lovely July evening, and the air was delicate with the scent of the pinewoods. Now and then they heard a wood-pigeon brooding over its own sweet voice, or saw, deep in the rustling fern, the burnished breast of the pheasant. Little squirrels peered at them from the beech-trees as they went by, and the rabbits scudded away through the brushwood and over the mossy knolls, with their white tails in the air. As they entered the avenue of Canterville Chase, however, the sky became suddenly overcast with clouds, a curious stillness seemed to hold the atmosphere, a great flight of rooks passed silently over their heads, and, before they reached the house, some big drops of rain had fallen.

Standing on the steps to receive them was an old woman, neatly dressed in black silk, with a white cap and apron. This was Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper, whom Mrs. Otis, at Lady Canterville's earnest request, had consented to keep in her former position. She made them each a low curtsey as they alighted, and said in a quaint, old-fashioned manner, "I bid you welcome to Canterville Chase." Following her, they passed through the fine Tudor hall into the library, a long, low room, panelled in black oak, at the end of which was a large stained glass window. Here they found tea laid out for them, and, after taking off their wraps, they sat down and began to look round, while Mrs. Umney waited on them.

Suddenly Mrs. Otis caught sight of a dull red stain on the floor just by the fireplace, and, quite unconscious of what it really signified, said to Mrs. Umney, "I am afraid something has been spilt there."

"Yes, madam," replied the old housekeeper in a low voice, "blood has been spilt on that spot."

"How horrid!" cried Mrs. Otis; "I don't at all care for blood-stains in a sitting-room. It must be removed at once."

The old woman smiled, and answered in the same low, mysterious voice, "It is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on that very spot by her own husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, in 1575. Sir Simon survived her nine years, and disappeared suddenly under very mysterious circumstances. His body has never been discovered, but his guilty spirit still haunts the Chase. The blood-stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed."

"That is all nonsense," cried Washington Otis; "Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time," and before the terrified housekeeper could interfere, he had fallen upon his knees, and was rapidly scouring the floor with a small stick of what looked like a black cosmetic. In a few moments no trace of the blood-stain could be seen.

"I knew Pinkerton would do it," he exclaimed, triumphantly, as he looked round at his admiring family; but no sooner had he said these words than a terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted.

"What a monstrous climate!" said the American Minister, calmly, as he lit a long cheroot. "I guess the old country is so overpopulated that they have not enough decent weather for everybody. I have always been of opinion that emigration is the only thing for England."

"My dear Hiram," cried Mrs. Otis, "what can we do with a woman who faints?"

"Charge it to her like breakages," answered the Minister; "she won't faint after that;" and in a few moments Mrs. Umney certainly came to. There was no doubt, however, that she was extremely upset, and she sternly warned Mr. Otis to beware of some trouble coming to the house.

"I have seen things with my own eyes, sir," she said, "that would make any Christian's hair stand on end, and many and many a night I have not closed my eyes in sleep for the awful things that are done here." Mr. Otis, however, and his wife warmly assured the honest soul that they were not afraid of ghosts, and, after invoking the blessings of Providence on her new master and mistress, and making arrangements for an increase of salary, the old housekeeper tottered off to her own room.

Footnotes

  1. Wilde wrote "The Canterville Ghost" as a twist on the traditional ghost story, as a satire of American materialism, and as a way to parody English culture as well. This section satires both American and English cultures by highlighting Mr. Otis's reliance on practicality and common sense and the English aristocracy's self-inflated perception of itself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Another theme that Wilde explores in this short story is related to aesthetics and how the different characters relate to the ghost's "art" of Gothic horror. Mr. Otis fails to make the connection between the thunder and the haunted, Gothic mansion after his son cleans up the blood, preferring to provide a different explanation rather than appreciate or fear the aesthetics of the haunted mansion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Mrs. Umney uses the blood stain to provide a classic setup for the ghost story. However, the pragmatic Washington immediately seeks to discredit the story by solving the "problem" with a modern convenience, reinforcing the culture clash between the Old World English and the Americans.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Wilde set "The Canterville Ghost'' in the English countryside in the late 19th century. To best highlight the conflicts present in his tale, Wilde has the story primarily take place in Canterville Chase, an old, large mansion described in Gothic terms. However, Wilde mixes the elements of horror with comedy, juxtaposing traditional English ghost stories with symbols of the modern United States.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Wilde calls the Minister and the twin boys "the only true republicans of the family" to emphasize that some members of the family identify more with the United States while others have a closer affinity for England and Europe.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. As a lower-cased adjective, "republican" refers to someone who strongly believes in and supports a republic, a nation in which the power of the government is held by the people and their elected representatives rather than a king of monarch.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. That is, Washington is a very gifted athletic and natural diplomat, but he is susceptible to the influence of titles, the aristocracy, and has a particular love of gardenia flowers—which really isn't a weakness, but Wilde humorously suggests it to be out of character with Washington's other traits.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Despite the name, the Newport Casino has never been a gambling establishment. Rather, "casino" used to mean a small location for playing various types of games or sports. The Newport Casino was a very popular place for lawn tennis, and in this context, readers can understand that Washington likely participates in such games since he is an athletic young man.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Wilde's narrator interjects his own voice several times throughout the story. While we are not privy to the identity of the narrator nor their relationship to the family, this inclusive pronoun "we" demonstrates that the narrator identifies as English. Based on this, readers should understand that many of the narrator's observations of the contrasting cultures are exaggerated and done for humorous effect.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Wilde juxtaposes the beautiful, idyllic English countryside with the gloomy, ominous area around Canterville Chase to set the sinister tone of the location and play into traditional Gothic and horror story conventions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Ascot is a town approximately 30 miles to the southwest of London in southern England. Eton College is located 10 miles to the north of Ascot, and therefore Canterville Chase, on the Thames. This helps provide context for the location of Canterville Chase and how it is situated in a fairly remote area but still close enough to notable towns and railway lines.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Mr. Otis establishes himself as a skeptic at the beginning of the story, preferring to rely on his practical, American sensibilities rather than listen to stories of ghosts. His attitude likely represents the perceived attitudes of Americans at the time, who valued items based on their ability to be purchased. He reasons that since no one has bought a ghost, they must not be real.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. One of the themes Wilde explores in this short tale is the culture clash between the English Old World and the American New World. Mr. Otis establishes this early by suggesting that ghosts are not real nor part of American sensibilities because they lack worth and therefore substance. This contrasts with the European view of worth, which is based on time and tradition.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The title of "rector" has nuances of meaning depending on the context in which it is used. Generally, it refers to a leader of an organization, such as a church, university, or school. So, the Rev. Augustus Dampier serves as a leader of the small administrative district and local church, known as a parish.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. This word indicates that a woman has been widowed and inherited her land and title from her late husband. It is often used as a modifier, as in this example, and it can also have a more informal meaning to indicate that a woman is older and dignified.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. "Providence" can refer to many things: Fate, divine fortune, the protective care of God, or the protection of nature as a spiritual power.

    — Susan Hurn
  17. The Minister suggests they charge Mrs. Umney for fainting, just as they would charge her for breaking items of household property. His suggestion reveals their belief that money, or withholding money, provides a solution to a problem.

    — Susan Hurn
  18. A "paragon" is something considered to be a perfect example that should be copied for its excellence. This can apply to products, people, or anything that can serve as a model.

    — Susan Hurn
  19. Rooks are a type of crow with black plumage that nests in colonies in treetops. Such birds are typically associated with ill omens, death, and the supernatural in literature.

    — Susan Hurn
  20. A type of carriage, a "waggonette" is a four-wheeled horse-drawn pleasure vehicle, typically open, with facing side seats and one or two seats arranged crosswise in front.

    — Susan Hurn
  21. Eton College is a distinguished, private English boarding school for boys which was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI on the Thames River.

    — Susan Hurn
  22. This is an allusion to the Amazons in Greek mythology, women warriors noted for their strength and ferocity in battle. Here this word is used to state that Virginia is not only beautiful but adventurous and strong.

    — Susan Hurn
  23. Similar to "aristocracy," "peerage" refers to a European class system that grants titles with privileges according to one's heritage; members of the nobility rank highest in the social order. 

    — Susan Hurn
  24. This refers to the physical nature and health of one's body. It generally accounts for good or poor health and can also mean one's ability to resist disease and hardship.

    — Susan Hurn
  25. The term "Old World" is an allusion to Europe. Mr. Otis uses a humorous spin on the idiom "painting the town red," which means to spend a great deal of money on all kinds of entertainment.

    — Susan Hurn
  26. A "fellow" is a member of a particular group of learned academics who hold special privileges at a college or university. At Cambridge, a centuries-old English university, fellows make up the governing body of the institution and may or may not teach courses. An especially distinguished scholar may be granted the status of Honorary Fellow at a university.

    — Susan Hurn
  27. Mr. Hiram B. Otis is an American Minister, which means he is a kind of diplomat working for the American embassy in England. "Minister" in this case refers to someone who acts under the authority of another and carries out executive duties as a representative for a superior, such as an ambassador.

    — Susan Hurn