I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Reading Level: Young Adult
Paperback: 343 pages
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Release Date: 1998 March 15 (first published in 1948)
Source: Personal Collection
Buy the book: Amazon/Book Depository
I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over a six-month period, first in a sixpenny book, then in a shilling book, and, finally, in a splendid two-guinea book, to hone her writing skills. And it is within these pages that she candidly chronicles her encounters with the estate's new, young, and handsome American landlords, the effects of her sister Rose's marital ambitions, her writer's-blocked father's anguished and ultimately renewed creativity, and her own hopeless, first descent into love.
By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle" - and the heart of the reader - in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.
Now that I've reread this, I can honestly say I am still in love with it. I first read I Capture the Castle when I was about Cassandra's age, and it spoke to me on such a deep, personal level. Years and years have gone by since, but a new book club gave me the opportunity to read it again... and I shall be forever grateful.
Dodie Smith created such a magnificent piece of wonder when she wrote this. Being (much) older than the first time I read it, I feel like I can sympathize more with Rose and everything she goes through... and causes to happen. I think I remember hating her for being such a heartless wretch of a human being during my first read. Now, I can commiserate with her despair and wanting to help out her family, even at the cost of marrying someone she doesn't love. Stephen, on the other hand, remains a character I feel kind of sorry for. He's so devoted to Cassandra. When he finally realizes she doesn't and will never love him the way he would want her to, he is devastated, but he accepts it eventually. He just wants her to be happy, even if that means she ends up with someone else. Stephen really shines at that point, in my opinion. He finally takes control of his own life and makes decisions for himself. I know I definitely prefer this Stephen over the lovesick puppy hoping for attention. Topaz also shone more the second time around. I fear I felt she was just a silly woman with no real substance to her at first. She really is a strong and brave character and she is quite selfless, though a little eccentric. I did find myself getting quite upset with Mr. Mortmain. It made me angry that his loving family was being practically ignored and forced to live in such horrible poverty. I believe he should have sucked it up and helped support his family... taken responsibility for their misfortunes. Stupid man.
During the book club, it was much talked about and despised that nothing really resolved itself. Cassandra didn't get to be with Simon. Rose and Neil got a happy ending, but still. Does Mr. Mortmain ever finish his book? Does Stephen go on to be a famous actor? Does Simon ever get over his heartbreak, forget Rose and embrace Cassandra? So many questions, but only an open-ended story to tease you. Frankly, I love the open end. I know full well what I imagine happens to these characters and I think the author was quite right in giving the reader an opportunity to create it. I suppose it would have been nice to have confirmation, but then it wouldn't feel genuine, in my opinion. Cassandra is more or less content with where her story ends, so why shouldn't we, right? I mean, not everything gets tied up in a neat bow in real life. Cassandra, being the intelligent, brave girl that she is, knows this.
Also during our book club meeting, there were complaints about too much scenery talk. Personally, being an extremely visual person, I loved it. I guess I'm just a different kind of reader from those in my group. Also, I thought it went well with the format of the novel. Cassandra wants to be a writer and she's writing a journal as a way to practice. Naturally, she is going to write about what she knows, hence why there is so much about the castle itself. You can also see her mature through her writing so much of what surrounds her. Our heroine really does find her voice and is able to "capture the castle" quite perfectly.
I Capture the Castle is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that is sure to continue to be as relevant today as it has been since its publication in 1948. I simply love this novel!
A favorite quote: "The thought came to me that perhaps it is the loving that counts, not the being loved in return - that perhaps true loving can never know anything but happiness."
Should you be interested, check out the film adaptation after reading it!