on November 5, 1998
I have long adored this book! I am so pleased to see so many discovering and rediscovering it. I would like to share a letter I received from Dodie Smith in 1985, when she so kindly responded to a letter I wrote to her. She replied:
Dear Lynn Hudson, Very many thanks for a particularily kind letter. "I Capture the Castle" was first published in 1948, 37 years ago and yet I still get letters about it, from old friends like you and also, occasionaly, from new friends. I'm astonished and proud that it has lasted so long. I've written other novels and two of my childrens' books continue to be succesful, (paticularily The Hundred and one Dalmatians), but nothing (for me anyway) means as much as ICTC> Where did those characters come from? They are not drawn from life. The Castle partly is but I changed it a great deal and I much prefer my own castle! I've been asked again and again to write a sequel to ICTC but I'm sure I never could. I don't even like to think of the future of the characters because I don't want them to grow older. I've been asked again and again to say whom Cassandra marries but I've no idea. I like to think of her just hopeful for the future and I shall let myself think you and I share this idea. I am now 89 and sometimes (but only sometimes) almost feel it, but not when I think about Cassandra. Thank You again for your letter which has given me great pleasure. And I like to think that in some mysterious realm of the imagination, the characters in my book are pleased to and send you their love-with mine. Dodie Smith Dodie Smith and I wrote back and forth a few more times, until she was unable to write again. She died in 1990. Thank-You, Dodie, for the wonderful gift of "I Capture the Castle"!
on July 8, 1999
I hate when books are hyped out of proportion but, in this case, believe the hype. I rarely react to a book so strongly that it leaves me with a pleasant glow days after I have read it. Magically, this book manages to be the warmest, most positive, least cloying story I have ever read (even the end is satisfying without being a cop-out). It is beautifully written with an amazing sense of place, atmosphere and character. Who couldn't fall in love with Cassandra with her quick wit, intelligence and unconventional outlook? I have rarely read such an unpatronising, accurate and positive account of a girl on the brink of adulthood. Read ICTC for the cleverly constructed plot. Read it for the descriptive passages and the evocation of time and place. Read it for the distinctive and endearingly eccentric characters, especially the narrator, Cassandra. Just read it. And don't think you have to be a woman to love this book. I am a guy in his late twenties who intends to pass on my copy of the book to most of my friends - male and female - under the strict condition that it is returned in mint condition!
on March 2, 2005
The plot of "I Capture the Castle" sounds, on its surface, a little Cinderella-y: two genteely impoverished sisters of between-the-wars Britain live in a ruined castle with their eccentric novelist father and his bohemian wife Topaz. (If you want a taste of author Dodie Smith's ability to write funny characters, bear in mind she is also the author of "101 Dalmations").
Two wealthy American brothers move in next door; although they are initially blinded by sister Rose's classic beauty, eventually one of them (I won't say which) sees the depth of character behind the narrator, the more sincere and thoughtful Cassandra.
Cassandra is an enchanting narrator (the book is a series of first-person entries into her journal) - she is witty, self-effacing, and completely authentic. The reader will absolutely believe she is a real, irreplacable person.
I was so enamored of Cassandra that at first I worried for her when she fell in love - I was worried about a too-convenient fairy-tale ending. But happily the "happily ever after" is replaced by a more intriguing end; Cassandra's final decision is perfectly consistent with her chracter.
I only wish I had read this when I was, like her, a teenager - it would have meant a lot to me to meet a character so ambitious, energetic, lively, funny, who still clearly has romance in her future.
on January 7, 2007
A couple momths ago, an old friend crippled many years by poor health and physical pain called me up and said, "I've run out of things to read--do you have anything I'd enjoy?" I lent her "I Capture the Castle". A while later she phoned to say: "It was SO perfect, I don't want to read anything else for a long while--I want to savor it." We chatted about the multifaceted charm of this novel, and compared it favorably with the film based on it, which we both had seen on DVD.
"On the 5th day of Christmas", 2006, I visited and found my friend dead in her bed--she seems to have died peacefully in her sleep. My book was on the table in her living room. In the days following I thoughtfully re-read the volume, thinking at every page how my late friend would have delighted at the offbeat wit and each nimble turn of phrase.
--And for the first time, I was struck by the small but important role of the Vicar (who "looked like an elderly baby"), and noticed the "stealth comfort" he administers to the non-practising, nominally Christian protagonist, when late in the story she is confused and depressed by situations beyond her control. It may well have been the last reference to the comfort of religion which my friend read, which is felicitious; for she reminded me much of the main character in her views on God and religion.
I am grateful to be granted the grace of giving my friend the pleasure of such an enchanting "last novel". I will savour that gentle and whimsical Providence (not unlike something which could have happened in the book) for the rest of my life.
on June 7, 2004
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, an aspiring author, is keeping a journal in which she chronicles her life in a ramshackle old English castle. Life is not easy for the Mortmains. Most of the family's possessions and furnishings have been sold off, they do without electricity, and there is barely enough to eat. In spite of all this, the family keeps a cheerful outlook and manages to get by, thanks in part to the generosity of the wealthy American Cotton family who has inherited the estate upon which the castle sits and who have taken the Mortmains under their wing.
The Mortmains are an offbeat family. Cassandra has flights of fancy and unusual schemes that often have unexpected results. Father, an eccentric and innovative writer, is suffering from severe writer's block and can no longer support the family. He spends his time holed up in the gatehouse reading novels. Stepmother Topaz is a flighty artist's model who enjoys roaming the estate in the buff. Cassandra's older sister Rose is tired of living hand-to-mouth, and she decides to find a way to marry the landlord's wealthy grandson. Handsome Stephen, a hired hand who stays on with the family even though the Mortmains cannot afford to pay him, has difficulty hiding his unrequited love for Cassandra.
First published in 1948 and set in the 1930s, the story has an old-fashioned feel to it, especially on the subject of courtship and marriage. It also highlights the cultural differences at that time between the Americans and the British. Possessing a wisdom and maturity beyond her years, Cassandra spends much time analyzing the people and events that surround her and then recording her observations. "Contemplation," she says, "seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing." Through her journals, Cassandra's voice is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and always endearing as she describes her concerns, her hopes, and her first love. "I capture the Castle" is recommended for both young adults and adults as a warm coming-of-age story.
on March 30, 2000
After I read a very short synopsis of this book, I knew it was a MUST HAVE. The only dissapointment was that it was not long enough. Cassandra Mortmain makes you want to be seventeen again. She narrates to you the very width and depth of her life during probably the most important summer of her life -- the summer she falls in love. It is a story about growing up, getting on, and making do. The fact that it is set in a ruined castle on the English countryside just drags the reader in deeper and deeper into Cassandra's realm.
I read the book in two sittings, then I passed it on to my best friend. She too fell madly in love with Cassandra Mortmain, her beautiful sister Rose, and all the delightful characters that come to life for the reader throughout this book.
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is a book for all ages. I kept asking myself, "Why couldn't I have had this book when I was seventeen?"
Read it. You are guaranteed to enjoy it. You will laugh, cry, daydream, and want to have a Ms. Blossom all of your own. You will long for more
on August 30, 2012
I was not terribly impressed by this story. It was well written with wonderful character development of the narrator, Cassandra, however the overall plot was dull. I think what really threw me was the very beginning of the novel, when Cassandra and her family describe their overwhelming poverty, and then they all come to the conclusion that not a single person in the house can go out and work to make money. Why not? What are they doing with their time? Cassandra daydreams and writes in her journal, I have no idea what Rose is up to, Thomas goes to school, Topaz keeps house, the father does crosswords and mopes all day about not being able to write, and the only person who does go out to make money is the orphan serving boy who shouldn't even be giving the family money in the first place.
Instead of self sufficient pluck to get the family out of poverty, the plot revolves around her sister Rose snaring a rich man, which in turn leads to the family's fortunes turning around (and a lot of other stuff happens).
It reminded me a lot of "A tree Grows in Brooklyn," but what made that such a wonderful read was the tenacity of the family, never giving up to pull themselves out of poverty through hard work and determination and not waiting around for things to be handed to them.
on September 26, 2002
Dodie Smith may be best-known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but she was the author of many hit West End plays and several best-selling books. If you enjoy mid-20th-century British fiction, may I recommend a perfect gem of a novel, back in print after many years a-languishing: I Capture the Castle, told in first-person narration by Cassandra Mortmain, the younger daughter of a family of impoverished eccentrics living in a small run-down castle in the British countryside, as she tries to "capture" her life in her private journal. Her father is a once-famous writer with a seemingly-insurmountable case of writer's block; her stepmother Topaz is an unusually-gorgeous former model with pretentions of artistry and a loving heart; her beloved sister Rose is hungry for some sort--any sort!--of change. Into this almost Austen-like situation comes Simon, the new landlord, an upper-class American from New England, along with his informal younger brother, raised in California, and their "club woman" mother, and suddenly the potentials and possibilities and coincidences become endlessly interesting...Will Simon propose to Rose? Will Mortmain ever write again? Will Cassandra's swain kiss her in the bluebell wood? Perhaps it doesn't sound like much, but it's engaging and endearing, a period-piece with "good bones" and long-lasting, pleasurable resonance, still holding up well after half a century on the shelves.
On my top-40 list, certainly, if not my top-10. I can't recommend this one highly enough.
on June 10, 2006
There are a lot of books out there with famous first lines. A Tale of Two Cities, for example: who hasn't heard "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"?
This book should be added to the list. I really don't think "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" could be improved upon in any way.
And it gets better from there.
I accidentally saw the movie first- which you should NEVER do. Seven-eighths of the charm of this story is in the first-person narration. The plotline itself is not all that impressive. In fact, when I explained the basic gist to Josh, it sounded a bit like a trashy grocery-store novel. Which proves, I guess, that you can never judge a book by its outline.
It is the diary of seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. Cassandra's author father got a 40-year lease on a crumbling old castle in the English countryside, because he felt its romantic essence would spark his dried-up creative juices. On the contrary, his writer's block stretches over two decades, and the family's income dwindles to nothing. Cassandra and her sister Rose spend most of their time imagining their lives differently, until, one day, two wealthy brothers move into a nearby mansion.
The ensuing drama unfolds in a predictable manner; but you won't mind, because the telling is so delicious. Cassandra's perspective brings so much whimsy and honesty and real-life-ness to an otherwise cliched and lachrymose tale. Each gleaming insight, every subtly hilarious description, along with the book's vaguely silly characters, adds up into an artfully winsome experience- a bittersweet yet somehow enormously enjoyable read. It's become one of my all-time favorites.
on February 29, 2004
This is the first sentence of _I Capture the Castle_, and it's got to be one of the all-time greatest first sentences (along with "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," from _Pride and Prejudice_, and "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it," from _The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'_).
The narrator is Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year-old who lives in a broken-down castle in Suffolk with her eccentric family: her father James, a writer suffering from a years-long case of writers' block; her stepmother Topaz, an artists' model who has a tendency toward outdoors nudism; her elder sister Rose, a beauty who desperately wants to escape the family's poverty-stricken life; her precocious younger brother Thomas; and Stephen, the son of a late family servant who is now the Mortmains' only breadwinner (and Cassandra's ardent admirer).Into their lives come the Cotton brothers, Simon and Neil, from America; Simon has just inherited the nearby Scoatney Hall, and Rose immediately sets out to capture him, thereupon setting in motion the train of events chronicled by Cassandra.
The foremost appeal of _I Capture the Castle_ is Cassandra's voice and personality, which infuses the book with her wit, charm, and innocence and makes you feel as though you know Cassandra and her family and friends intimately. I've heard people criticize the ending, which certainly does not tie it all up in a neat resolution, but to me, that's a strength of the book: you feel that the characters can continue beyond the last page, because their futures are in doubt, and you can conjecture to your heart's delight about what might happen to them.