Wednesday, December 07, 2011


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I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith, Atlantic-Little, Brown Books, 1948, 343 pp

Some novels about the teenage female experience are best read when you are a teenage female, such as the Twilight series. Others, such as this one, are brilliant for reminding you what it was like to be a teenage female, whether you are now 26, 45, or over 60.

Cassandra Mortmain, seventeen, living in poverty with her family in an ancient crumbling English castle, is writing a journal. Having realized that she is a terrible poet, she is now "capturing" her family, her life and the castle in order to train herself to write prose. Wonderful prose it is.

Cassandra is naive in the extreme for her seventeen years. She has never been kissed or even felt desire. But she has lived a sheltered life for the past eight years since her mother died, her father leased the castle and remarried and fell into deep writer's block. James Montmain was once an acclaimed writer due to his first "modernist" novel, but now he is a has been and the family is selling off their furniture in order to eat.

It is March, cold and dreary. Rose, the older sister, is 21 and bitter because she will never "make a good marriage." It may be the 1930s but I Capture the Castle sits firmly in Jane Austen territory, socially and emotionally. When the American sons of the castle's owner arrive on the scene, Cassandra and Rose begin to act out Pride and Prejudice.

Not exactly though, for Cassandra is well read, smart and resourceful. She also possesses deep insight into people, excluding herself, and has a huge heart. She loves her self-centered sister, her hapless father and her quirky stepmother. Most of all, she knows that she wants to be a writer and has doubts about marriage; a very 20th century viewpoint.

The arrival of Neil and Simon Cotton brings excitement, hope and a much improved financial condition. Dinner parties, who loves whom, trips to London, involve a whole new set of problems. These events also provide entertaining contrasts between the English social classes and humorous comments on the English versus the American.

As a reader, I was captured by Dodie Smith and put through everything I have loved about books like The Little Princess, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and many more. At this point in my reading life, I would not be happy with a steady diet of such books but strangely enough, I could see reading I Capture the Castle again someday. The end of the story is unexpected; much more realistic than any of the above. It left me thinking about Cassandra.

(I Capture the Castle is available in paperback on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

1 comment:

  1. I keep hearing good things about this book but still haven't read it. I really have to read it now! Thanks for the review!