Dodie Smith – I Capture The Castle


Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle is another one of those books with a fantastic opening line, which makes the reader want more:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.

An enchanting narrator, seventeen year old Cassandra (described as Jane Eyre with a touch of Becky Sharp), attempts to capture eight of the months of her stay at the castle, in three journals: the six penny book, the shilling book, and the two guinea book.

Poverty-striken, with barely any new income coming in, the family is trying to figure out the best way to make ends meet. All the antiques have been sold, and the castle is but bare now. Cassandra’s father, also a writer, hasn’t been able to work since he was in prison for three months, and the money coming in from the successes of his first book is now nil. His second wife, Topaz, occasionally poses nude for artists to earn money, but even that isn’t much for she has to live in London during these jobs, and living there is expensive. Cassandra’s older sister, Rose, is bitter and disgruntled with the state of affairs, and contemplates working the streets in order to make some quick money; whereas Thomas is still going to school and giving a helping hand around at home. Finally, there’s young Stephen, the son of their now deceased househelp, who is completely enamoured by Cassandra, despite the fact that it seems to be unrequited.

When Simon and Neil Cotton, the inheritors of the castle, which the family has leased, come into their lives one day, Cassandra focuses on getting Rose and Simon together, in order to improve the quality of Rose’s life, and see her happier. However, what transpires is heart-wrenching, as the seventeen year old realises that love is complicated, and somehow, things don’t always turn out as one intends them to.

Cassandra is a lovely and fascinating narrator, and her writing is full of literary and musical references, be it Lord Fauntleroy, or Debussy. Hidden throughout the book are loads of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte references, and one of my favourite parts of the book read:

“I thought of the beginning of Pride and Prejudice – where Mrs. Bennett says ‘Netherfield Park is let at last’. And then Mr. Bennett goes to call on the rich new owner.”

“Mr. Bennett didn’t owe him any rent,” I said.

“Father wouldn’t go anyway. How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!”

I said I’d rather be in a Charlotte Bronte.

“Which would be nicest – Jane with a touch of Charlotte, or Charlotte with a touch of Jane?”

There are even art references, and I was quite surprised by a surrealist Dali reference. These references added to the book, and I found myself being fascinated as I was surrounded by intelligent well-read characters, and not girls who are looking to sit pretty and not do much else.

The emotions are also portrayed beautifully, and the honesty the journals portray are heartwarming. She comes across as a conscientious child, innocent and “consciously naive”, and when she acts impulsively, her guilt and self-criticism begs for sympathy.

The one “captured” character, though, that I just didn’t understand, was the father. He turned a blind eye to the problems of the castle, where his children were dressed in torn worn-out clothes, and there was barely any food at home. Even when Stephen, someone who “worked” for the family without taking any wages, offered to get a job and contribute to the household expenditures, the father carried on as though everything was right as rain. Some of the other characters were convinced that he needed psychological help, whereas others labeled him a genius.

I loved this book to bits, and thought it was a wonderful story, from the perspective of a very charming seventeen year old. The characters are incredible, the story touching, and the turn of events mind-boggling and wistful. And the book didn’t have a typical ending, which endeared me to it further.

Rating: 4

17 Responses to “Dodie Smith – I Capture The Castle”

  1. This is one of my favourite novels so I am thrilled that you loved it too. The uniqueness of the setting and characters and the literary and art references make it delightful. The opening line is also one of my favourites and Cassandra is endearing.

    The father is confusing in his actions but I do have a lot of pity for him.

  2. This is one of my favorites so far this year. I thought Cassandra was such a wonderful narrator. I also liked Topaz.

  3. I haven’t read this yet, but hope to do so soon. I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed it – I really should dig it out!

  4. I have heard good things about this book and have thought about reading it. I shall now, officially, add it to the ever growing list of books to read!

  5. @Claire : I can easily see why it’s a favourite for you. I already want to re-read it! I really do love Cassandra, as well as Stephen and Topaz. I know it sounds foolish, but this book evoked emotions similar to Burnett’s The Secret Garden, in me…

    @charley : Yep, Topaz, Cassandra and Stephen were my favourite characters. Again, can easily see why it’s one your favourites so far – it might go down in a permanent favourite list for me.

    @Jackie : I hope you do, too. Would love to read what you think about it. :)

    @Random Reflections : If I say it’s a feel-good wonderful escape, and you’re just lost in Cassandra’s world, so much so that you find yourself sharing her emotions, would it bump it up your list :) It really is all that….

    • It doesn’t sound stupid at all; The Secret Garden is my childhood favourite so it stands to reason that there are similarly evoked emotions.

  6. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but will now be adding it to my to-read list. The premise sounds really unique, and I love the Austen and Bronte references.

  7. Wow! What an amazing first line! And you have done a wonderful job in depicting this book as a must read. Don’t know when, but read it I must!

  8. Love this book, have you seen the film? Bill Nighey as the father makes his character a bit clearer.

  9. @alitareads : Do – it’s beautiful, and quite different. Also, the ending is atypical, which helps. I’ll look forward to your review :)

    @Sarah : Yeah, you must! It shouldn’t take too long, and I reckon you’ll fly through it. :)

    @Jodie : Nope, I haven’t. I didn’t even know there was a film. Whoops. I’d love to see the castle captured in the film, though – please excuse the appalling pun.

  10. Interesting. I guess it was really a good read. I have to quickly check on Dodie Smith.

  11. I have this on the pile and can’t wait to read it now I’ve read your lovely review! The film is terrific so I have high hopes for the book!

  12. @Nana : You should. I hope you do. :)

    @Rachel : Thanks for stopping by and commenting for the first time. I really hope you enjoy it. I haven’t seen the film, but it’s definitely there on my list.

  13. Am reading this now and enjoying it very much. It’s sweet and fanciful but realistic at the same time. And who can resist novels where there’s a trashy-novel reading Vicar in the mix.

  14. I read this a very long time ago, and I don’t remember all of it, but I do believe I was just as enchanted as you clearly were (though I was too young and not well enough read to get all of the literary references, I imagine I’d get them now, and it would add to the re-read value.)

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