"The Canterville Ghost" is a short story by the Irish author Oscar Wilde which was first published in 1887. It combines elements of a traditional ghost story with wit and humor.
The story begins when the Otis family, Americans who are very modern and quite materialistic, move into an old English country house called Canterville Chase. Mr. Otis is warned that the house is haunted before he moves in but he and his family are skeptical at first. The family soon come to accept that the ghost is real but they are not at all frightened by it. The ghost, who had been terrifying all those who stayed at Canterville Chase for three hundred years, is greatly insulted by the fact that he does not scare the Americans. He grows to hate the family, except for the teenage girl Virginia, who he feels is different from the others. At the end of the story, Virginia helps the ghost to finally rest in peace.
Three centuries before the story begins, Sir Simon de Canterville murders his wife Lady Eleanor at their home Canterville Chase. When they find out about his crime, Lady Eleanor's brothers take revenge on Sir Simon. He is chained to a wall with some food and a jug of water placed just out of his reach. The door to the room is sealed and Sir Simon dies of starvation. Sir Simon is doomed to haunt Canterville Chase after his death but, for the most part, he seems to enjoy being a ghost. He is able to take on other forms, including a skeleton, a vampire monk and a huge black dog. Generations of the de Canterville family, their relatives and other visitors to Canterville Chase are terrified by him. Many of the people that he frightens go mad and some even take their own lives.
Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American ambassador in London, buys Canterville Chase from Lord Canterville. Mr. Otis is warned that there is a ghost in the building but he jokingly says that he will take the house complete with its furniture, the ghost and everything else. Hiram B. Otis, his wife Lucretia, their oldest son Washington, fifteen-year-old daughter Virginia and their two young twin sons move into the house. When they arrive, Mrs. Otis notices a red stain on the floor. The housekeeper, Mrs. Unley, tells them that the stain is a sign of the ghost's presence. It is the blood of Lady Eleanor, marking the spot where she was murdered, and it is impossible to remove. Washington does not believe that and immediately uses some Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent to get rid of it. However, the stain always reappears the next morning. The family notice that it its shade of red varies and one day it is green. The fact that the stain always comes back, even when the door to the room is locked, convinces the family that there really is a ghost.
The ghost appears in front of Mr. Otis one evening, rattling some chains. Mr. Otis is not frightened by the ghost. Instead, he simply tells Sir Simon that his chains are making too much noise and that putting some Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator on them would stop that. The ghost is unable to scare any of the other members of the family either. He is especially roughly treated by the twins, who enjoy tripping him up and firing pea-shooters at him. Sir Simon is even frightened when he sees what he thinks is another ghost. It turns out to be a dummy made out of a jack-o-lantern and a sheet.
Sir Simon gives up trying to scare the Otis family, who wrongly imagine that the ghost has left. He is pleased when he hears that the young Duke of Cheshire, who is in love with Virginia, is to visit Canterville Chase. The ghost had successfully frightend some of the Duke's ancestors.
Virginia confronts the ghost during the Duke's visit. She calls Sir Simon wicked both for having taken her paints, which he used for the bloodstain, and for having killed his wife. The ghost admits that he murdered his wife but says that her brothers were cruel in starving him to death afterwards. He goes on to say that he has had no rest for three hundred years and that he longs to be truly dead. Virginia takes pity on the ghost and wants to help him. Sir Simon explains that there is a prophecy that if a girl weeps and prays for him, Death may have mercy on him and allow his spirit to finally rest. He warns Virginia that it will be a very frightening experience for her but she agrees to do it anyway.
While she is praying for Sir Simon, Virginia goes missing and is searched for by her family, the Duke of Cheshire and the police. When Virginia comes back, she explains that Sir Simon de Canterville has really died at last. She leads her family to Sir Simon's skeleton, which is buried soon afterwards.
Virginia later marries the Duke of Cheshire. She keeps no other secrets from her husband but she never tells him precisely what happened while she was praying for Sir Simon.