The Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost Study Guide

The Canterville Ghost was first published in 1887 in The Court and Society Review. The first part was published on February 23, with the second installment following on March 2. It was accompanied by illustrations. By 1887, Wilde had achieved a significant reputation as a poet, playwright, lecturer, and flamboyant public figure. Beginning around 1885, he had also become involved in the world of periodicals and magazines, initially by writing reviews and articles. This transition to a more stable form of income was important because Wilde now had a wife and two young children to support.

The Canterville Ghost was the Wilde's first piece of short prose fiction to be published, but it was quickly followed by other tales and stories. By 1888, he had published his first short story collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. The Canterville Ghost was not included in this collection, but it did appear in Wilde's 1891 collection, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories. Wilde wrote the story after spending months touring America as a lecturer and honing his observations on American culture.

Wilde’s story is not just one of his most anthologized works, but also one of his most adaptable. Sir Simon—the titular ghost—has been portrayed on screen by, among others, Charles Laughton, John Gielgud, and Patrick Stewart. Wilde’s story has been adapted into at least three different operas in three different languages in addition to a stage musical, a graphic novel, a Bollywood film, and any number of very loose adaptations. The comedy, short length, and accessible writing style have also made it popular with young readers as an introduction to the short-story genre.

Wilde was not the first writer to toy with the idea of a comedic ghost; previous examples include the ghost that haunts Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Ichabod Crane’s nemesis in Sleepy Hollow. And even the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Headless Horseman were capable of inspiring shrieks as much as guffaws--none came anywhere close to inspiring more squeals of laughter than squeals of alarm in readers. So, in a very real sense, The Canterville Ghost serves as an ancestor for all horror-comedy to follow, from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Ghostbusters to Shaun of the Dead.