Everyone’s favorite satirist, playwright, and, uh…epigram-er…was Irish. And he wrote a blistering critique of the Anglo-American relationship that only a true Irishman could.
Oscar Wilde is well known for his epigrams, as brevity is the soul of wit (as Shakespeare said). Wilde’s use of short, succinct and snappy sayings seems to mirror his ability to say a great deal in very few words, as in his short stories. “The Canterville Ghost,” Wilde’s first published short story, is less than 30 pages; however, its size belies its strength. It’s a lesser-known but no-less-brilliant comedy sketch of an American family of recent means that moves into a moldering English pile. Surprise, surprise: it’s haunted.
The ghost, naturally, is a 16th-century nobleman resplendent in clanking chains, bloodstains, and wide eyes; the American family, of course, is up to their ears in individualism, pioneer spirit, and brand name products. Some things, it seems, never change.
Irish authors are known for their short stories, and this one packs a great deal of punch.
Wilde, as an Irishman, seems to have taken his position from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean very seriously. The story is a subtle, biting and witty commentary on both English and American culture.
Actually…it’s not that subtle: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language,” an English character quips almost immediately.
Telling the story from the ghost’s perspective intrigues the reader, too, considering Wilde’s short, intense, and often difficult life. The ghost fights to keep things as they always are, but, alas—change is inevitable. No matter how many bloodstains you leave on the living room rug, Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will always be there to foil your plans. Not to mention the twin American ruffian schoolboys, who make Tom and Huck the primmest of goodie-two-shoes.
The story, though comedic, comments on the nature of literature, society, class, and life and death itself. The ghost is trapped in between worlds (like Ireland, between two cultures?) and must be set free by the American teenage daughter, who has the common sense of her American parents and the romantic sensibility of her new English landscape.
So, hidden in the few pages of a short comedy filled with one-liners (“It is very difficult sometimes to keep awake, especially at church, but there is no difficulty at all about sleeping,”) Wilde comments on the in-betweenness of human experience.
“Yes, death,” Wilde writes: “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.”
What do you think?
Have you read this story? Are you a fan of Oscar Wilde?
Let us know in the comment section below.
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About The Blogger
Sarah Beach is a writer, editor, and researcher with an intense need for herbal tea. She writes about a variety of subjects, including social media, mental health, memes, and holistic wellness. Sarah is a graduate student in the field of Communication Studies and teaches rhetoric. She is also a registered Reiki practitioner and enthusiastic ukulele player. When she’s not writing, you can find her wandering aimlessly outdoors or watching period dramas.