The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger.

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Wilde, Oscar.  Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger.  1996.  THE CANTERVILLE GHOST.  New York:  North-South Books.  ISBN: 1-558-624-5.

Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost is the story of an American family in the late nineteenth century who buys an English country estate complete with a ghost.  The poor ghost, Sir Simon, who has terrorized residents and visitors to Canterville Chase for centuries has met his match in the Otis family who fail to be frightened of him no matter which role he assumes, for example "Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide's Skeleton" or "Martin the Maniac, or the Masked Mystery."  The Otis' son, Washington, removes his cherished bloodstain daily and the twins terrorize him instead of the other way around.  Sir Simon is finally laid to rest with the help of the Otis' daughter, Virginia.  As a token of his gratitude, Sir Simon gives Virginia an inheritance of jewels.  A few years later Virginia marries a young duke and lives happily ever after.

Viennese artist, Lisbeth Zwerger, illustrated this classic tale to perfection.  Zwerger has said that Arthur Rackham, one of Britain's most celebrated illustrators of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, was a great influence on her work and nowhere is that influence more evident than in her illustrations for The Canterville Ghost.  Her eleven illustrations have a definite old-fashioned look to them.  The backgrounds of all the illustrations are done in very neutral shades of beige, tan, and gray, so that the reader focuses on the objects and people, drawn in darker, brighter, or stronger colors, not the background.  Sir Simon, the ghost, is rendered as a comical figure.  He is round and pale with sharp nose, wild, thin hair, thin legs, big feet, and clothed in Elizabethan garb, his full striped pantaloons adding to his clownlike appearance.  Even in one drawing, where Sir Simon is portrayed as a headless ghost, he is more a comic figure than a frightening one.  In contrast, the Otis family is dressed in the height of late-nineteenth century fashion.  Mr. Otis is a typical businessman in suits or striped pajamas, with glasses and a moustache.  Mrs. Otis wears a long dress and has her hair up in a bun.  Oldest son, Washington, is shown sporting the informal young man's look of plaid trousers and vest and the young twin sons wear knee pants or are shown in their nightshirts romping in their bedroom.  Many of the illustrations feature the teenage daughter, Virginia, the one who helps the ghost find peace.  Because Virginia is a young woman of action and the one who helps the ghost, she is always shown in motion:  walking out of a room, walking outside in her riding habit, being led around by the ghost, bending over Sir Simon's grave as he is laid to rest, and finally, walking down an avenue with the Duke after their marriage.  

The Canterville Ghost is one of the classic tales that Zwerger enjoys illustrating, and her unique illustrations give Wilde's old tale new life.

Works cited:
Lewis, Meredith E.  "New Pictures, Old Stories."  The American Artist, September 2005.  Accessed March 4, 2006.

 By Monica Wood