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Oscar Wilde and The Canterville Ghost


Oscar Wilde was born in 1854, in a most stimulating environment, the intellectual high class of Dublin. His father was a famous surgeon who also wrote poems, travel books and scientific treatises, and his mother a brilliant poet and literary critic, an intelligent, politically involved woman in whose house artists, writers and scientists gathered. Oscar took part in such evening gatherings. He received an excellent education at Trinity College in Dublin and Magdalene College in Oxford. He graduated with honours and even then began to stand out as a poet. In Oxford, he delved deeply into aesthetic theory and the "Greek ideal" of beauty and love, as well as into the intellectual renaissance. Afterwards, he travelled in the United States and France as spokesman of the British Aesthetic Movement, which defended art for art sake. The end of the century saw the height of his fame, with the publication of plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest, an accurate picture of Victorian society, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, perhaps his best novel. In the last and most eccentric period of his life he was accused of sodomy and condemned to two years imprisonment, during which he wrote De profundis. After he release he went to France, ruined both financially and socially and sick and rejected, died alone in a Paris hotel room in 1900.


The Canterville Ghost, included in a volume of short stories published in 1891, revolutionized ghost stories, very much in fashion in that period. Wilde, a lover of the tradition of oral literature and the supernatural, creates a completely different vision of this genre, full of humour and irony. The characteristics of American society, materialistic and puritanical, are set in contrast with the pride and affectation of a baroque, aristocratic and decadent ghost. The spectre of Sir Simon of Canterville is a sentimental and dispossessed character who fights to keep his anachronistic position against a rational and incredulous family. Above all, this story is a social picture of the clash between American and British cultures and the vices and virtues of both.