Thursday, 30 January 2014

Oscar, Dorian and the Canterville Ghost

Back when I couldn't have been more than ten years old, I saved up my pocket money and bought a paperback called, Mystery and Imagination, containing the stories dramatised in the TV series of the same name. Naturally, I was far too young to be allowed to stay up late and watch that, so I eagerly devoured the wonderful short stories of the likes of Sheridan le Fanu, my soon-to-be-hero M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and many more. But a little gem stood out from the rest, as much as anything because it made me smile. I had my introduction to Oscar Wilde, and the short story was The Canterville Ghost.

The exploits of the hapless ghost of Sir Simon Canterville - as he attempts to frighten off an American invasion of the Otis family into his ancestral home - are a delight. And when poor old long dead Sir Simon is faced with modern detergents used to clean up his recurring bloodstains and Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator applied to his rusting chains, it's enough to make any spectre swear. But the ultimate insult occurs when, his best efforts having failed to raise even the slightest squeak of fear from the unwanted residents, they have the gall to taunt him with a 'ghostly' creation of their own: 

Ye Onlie True and Originale Spooke
Beware of Ye Imitationes
All others are Counterfeite.


Over the years, I have read and re-read that story countless times and it still raises smiles to this day.




I came across The Picture of Dorian Gray some years later. In fact I saw the film (the version made in 1945) before I read the story. In life, Oscar Wilde worshipped youth and beauty. He loved to surround himself with beautiful, young, vibrant people. Even more so the older he grew. This is evident in his liaison with the much young Lord Alfred ('Bosie') Douglas and in his friendships with the beauties of the day such as Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill (American born mother of Winston) and the Jersey Lily herself, Lily Langtry. He is famously quoted as remarking, "Youth is wasted on the young."



In The Picture of Dorian Gray, a talented artist is commissioned to paint a portrait of the wealthy young man of the title. As years go by and Gray leads an increasingly debauched life, he remains young, while in the attic, his picture reflects the ravages of time and sin. The story went through various edits, and in the longer version we now know, Oscar wrote a challenging preface to his readers. He entreated them to judge 'art for art's sake' and stated, 'there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.' With typical Wilde immodesty, he also remarked, 'Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.'


The Picture of Dorian Gray was released to a storm of protest and outrage from reviewers, bordering on the hysterical. He was even threatened with possible criminal investigation as a result of his writing - a sad portent of what was to come a few years later. 


It remained Oscar's only full length published novel.



  1. Oh my... Wilde has been a fav of mine since I was like 16. I also adore all his short stories like the Happy Prince and the Selfish Giant. He can make you laugh in one sentence, cry in the next. As for his plays, they are so witty but cutting and true. What an amazing man he was and sadly he suffered for so many things.

    1. He did indeed, Shehanne. He's definitely way up there in my top ten of people from history I would have loved to meet. Imagine him around your dinner table!

  2. He's been a favorite of mine from my teens too. I loved that he wrote so many very different things.

    1. He had a unique way with words and I agree, Sheila, so versatile. He wouldn't be hidebound by genre!

  3. He had a terrific way with words. But I do want to slap him when his characters talk only in sound bites :)

    1. Hi Elin, re: sound bites: I wonder, is that just how some readers today might perceive it, because he is quoted so much?