In school is fairly common, during the lesson, to spot some pupil doing something completely unrelated to what the teacher is trying to explain.
You might have guessed it, I was the one singing out of the choir of rebels, the one without a GameBoy to play with (that came later).
Namely, I was the one who ignored the teacher to read a book.
Sitting in the second row of desks and very inexperienced as I was, I got caught the first time.
Fortunately, my Literature teacher was quite understanding: she took the book away from me, threatened not to give it back and then told the story to my parents, laughing as if it was the next best joke.
All in all, it didn’t end badly for me. I was quickly forgiven.
Well, I suppose that’s because the teacher wasn’t so much displeased with my choice of reading: ‘The Canterville Ghost’ by Oscar Wilde was surely something quite unusual for a kid from Primary School.
Of course – just as it happened with ‘The Black Arrow’ – at the time I had no idea about the Wilde’s witticism or the social criticism he expresses with this fantastic tale.
I had to come back to the story a few years later, to finally appreciate Wilde’s genius.
However, what’s this all about?
It’s a ghost story.
And it’s a love story.
An American family moves to England in a beautiful house in the countryside.
It’s not long before the daughter starts hearing spooky noises during the night, chains dragged around and creepy shadows appearing down the hall.
The rest of the family is ready to call her crazy, though the Canterville ghost is very very real.
Along with his heavy chains, the ghost drags along his wounded heart and a curse that has been surrounding the mansion for decades.
What Wilde is denouncing here is the cockiness of the American society (and of the English bourgeoisie as well) and he does it splendidly.
He highlights how love and compassion are too often forgotten by a bigot society, who embraces what is supposed to be ‘right’ and dismisses everything that is supposed to be ‘wrong’, as dictated by well-defined, unspoken rules someone else set for us.
There it is, a beautiful story, the kind of story whose heart doesn’t stop beating at the turn of the century – as you can relate to it today the same way people did 150 years ago (roughly).
An essential lesson from someone we should probably be a bit more keen on listening to.
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