Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is the story of a pivotal part of narrator Cassandra's life when a young American man inherits the estate next door. Her family lives in a crumbling castle in the 1930s, barely scraping by with the hopes that their once-acclaimed father will write another novel and change their fate. Unfortunately, they've been living off of hope alone for years, selling off most of their possessions in the process. So Cassandra's sister Rose, terribly sick of poverty, makes up her mind to marry into money i.e. marry their new American neighbor Simon. The story follows the string of mishaps, both hilarious and heartbreaking, which follow this decision.

Cassandra is an aspiring writer and she documents the tales of this life-changing period in three notebooks. From her very first lines, she draws you in with her charm and quirkiness:
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. I can't say I'm particularly comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a new place where you have never sat before can be inspiring-- I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house. Though even that isn't a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I musn't write any more of it.
She has such a clear voice; you feel like you know who she is instantaneously. I, for one, want to be her best friend and have tea and biscuits with her on the mound. Especially if it meant I could hear more of her curious observations like, "Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression." 

Quite obviously, she's irresistible; not because of beauty or fashion, but charisma. She has the unwavering devotion of a young man named Stephen who lives in a cramped room off the kitchen and maintains the castle grounds. Even though she's fond of him and even though she admits he looks like a Greek god (which is why it's so fitting that he's played by Henry Cavill, the handsomest man on the planet, in the movie), the situation makes her increasingly uncomfortable and she's constantly searching for ways to let him down gently. She's very much enthralled with their serious, but good-hearted neighbor Simon and his lively and charming younger brother Neil. As she watches Rose make a complete fool out of herself in front of them, Cassandra begins to see just how different she and her sister truly are. They endure a suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny episode involving a train and newly-inherited fur coats, grow closer, talk loads about beards vs clean shaven visages (how appropriate for No Shave November!), and grow apart, all while experiencing first love. 

As Cassandra attempts to "capture the castle" with her scribblings, she captures herself in a defining moment instead. Her descriptions are so rich, you feel like you're right there with her as she swims in the freezing moat with Neil, dances wildly on May Day with Simon, listens to "Lover" on the gramophone. While you feel like you know her and understand why she does the things she does, she also manages to surprise you in big ways. Consequently, she is now one of my favorite female characters of all time; one who I'd be delighted to spend more time with. It's a delicious read, one which has inspired me to journal more, and I couldn't possibly recommend it enough. If you're looking for an antidote to the cold months ahead, curl up with this heartwarming classic with tea and biscuits.


  1. I wish we could be real-life best friends with Cassandra. So just has so much... panache! And the way she views life and the world around her! UGH! What a writer!

  2. Me too! The writing is so superb, I can't get over it!