Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oscar Wilde - The Canterville Ghost and Other Tales

An American family moves into Canterville Chase, rumored to be a haunted house. But the skeptical Americans do not believe in ghosts--not, that is, until their daughter Virginia disappears after a series of uncanny incidents.

Comment: In one of my book clubs we've decided to read the tale 'The Canterville Ghost' (1)by Oscar Wilde. I've read it in Portuguese and in that edition there were another 4 tales besides the one of the ghost: 'The Fisherman and his Soul'(2), 'The Birthday of the Infanta'(3), 'The Sphinx Without a Secret'(4) and 'Lord Arthur Seville's Crime'(5). Of them all, my favorite was the third one, it was both perturbing and beautiful.
Each story focuses on some moral ideal or the lack of it and how people are led by their wants and needs not always paying attention to what it would mean to others. 
The writing of course is witty and  ironic at times. But it also makes you think and that's the best part. We can see the strength of the author's aim with this stories in every tale and the way the characters behave.
The first story is about the ghost. He's very old and has always done the same thing, but when a different family comes to live in "his" house, no one fears him and the children even mock him and find ways to humiliate him. While his resentment grows and his attempts to frighten them fail again and again, he finally understands it's time to move on. Many say this is a study on old rules and traditions vs new ways of doing things but to me it was simply a funny story of moving on. The ghost was trapped in his own actions and with the help of one of the family members he realizes he way he's been acting for so long is no longer needed. He has to move on, and he does. I liked it.
The second story is about a fisherman who falls in love with a mermaid. Then he gets rid of his soul in order to be with the mermaid in the bottom of the ocean. The soul travels a lot during a year to try to look for something stronger than the love the fisherman has for the mermaid. In the end the soul tricks the fisherman and when he returns to the mermaid he dies with her. This story proves that nothing is stronger than love, even a soul's most desired thing. It's a sad story but interesting.
The third story is my favorite. It's about a spoiled Infanta, who plays whenever she wants and wants to be entertained. One day a dwarf shows up and the Infanta and the other children with her find him amusing and play with him and laugh and laugh and the dwarf, as simple but good hearted person, laughs too. He thinks he loves the Infanta because she wants to play with him and to see him dance. After all the play he goes into the house looking for the Infanta to tel her he loves her because she is a good friend and sees a monster in a room, the monster is small, deformed, small and twisted legs, awfully big eyes in a ugly face. The he understands the truth, it's him. The others weren't laughing with him, they were laughing at him and mocking him while he danced. His heart breaks and he suddenly can't breathe. The Infanta returns and tells a servant to see what's happening to the dwarf. He tells her he's dead because his heart broke. The Infanta laughs and says he needs to find her people who have no heart at all. Can you see how disturbing and sad this story is? I was absolutely touched by this, it still lingers in my head. It's obviously a story about friendship and love is in eye of the beholder and it saddens me so much to think some people might feel this way and others make fun of them in such a way.
The fourth story is about an intriguing woman, she's mysterious and this guy who seems to be falling in love with her wants to find out her secrets. He tries everything to know more about her and when he finds out she goes to a certain house the same day at the same hour and stays there the same amount of time he thinks she's having an affair and confronts her and she asks him to trust her but he leaves her alone. He travels somewhere and is told about her death.Apparently the owner of the house says that she would just sit there by a window during all the time.She never met anyone or did anything, just sit there. Apparently when we want to be more mysterious than we actually are, it can backfire...
The fifth story is about Lord Saville, in a party a psychic tells him he will commit a crime and he can't rest until he does, so he can be free of that fate. He attempts to murder an aunt and when he finds out bout her death he breathes deep but her death was an accident after all. Then he tries to kill someone else but his plan goes wrong again. So one day he trows the psychic over a bridge. the he marries the girl he loves and goes on his life happy because he just got fate out of the way. It's interesting to know the thing we might fear the most is closer than he think.
I liked all the stories and will try to read more by the author in the future.

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