I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Pages: 408 / Published by: Vintage / Buy Here

The Mortmain Family is living in an old castle but what may sound as the perfect beginning to a magical story is actually the result of poverty. After his groundbreaking first novel, Mortimer Mortmain has never written anything again. So his second wife Topaz and his three children are living in a desolate state. When the castle’s owner dies, his grandsons come over from America to take over and the two girls Rose and Cassandra see marriage as the only chance to survive.

Cassandra loves living in the old castle her family is renting. She sees the signs of poverty – the selling of their furnitue, their lack of clothes and the need to have a bath in the kitchen – through a romantic lense. She has the same imaginative and creative mind as her father and uses the atmosphere to her advantage. The story is told through her diary which she uses as a practice for writing.

How strange memory is! When I close my eyes, I see three different castles – onein the sunset light of the first evening, one all fresh and clean as in our early days here, one as it is now.

Cassandra is yet a child and feels slightly embarassed by the feelings her friend Stephen seems to have for her. She rather likes to run around the estate and to hide in barns with her dog and cat where she writes down her experiences.

But words are very inadequate – anyway, my words are. Could anyone reading the picture our kitchen by firelight, or Belmotte Tower rising onwards the moon-silvered clouds, or Stephen managing to look both noble and humble? (It was most unfair of me to say he looks a fraction daft.) When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it.

When Simon and Neil, the heirs to the castle, arrive and start visiting the family it is Rose who sees it as her duty to win Simon over for the good of them all. Unlike Cassandra, she is appaled by their poverty and she is in accordance with the time’s thinking that a young woman’s only task is to get married and have a family of her own.

I Capture the Castle is the tale of one hot summer full of love. The two Mortmain girls are thrust into contact with the outside world and are supposed to find their place in it. Cassandra, stuck in that awkward and confusing time between childhood and adolescence is bombarded with feelings and the problems these can entail for everyone involved.

While I liked the story and characters, I cannot understand how it became to be considered such a classic. I recognize that it is well written – especially when it discusses the topic of memory and writing itself – but the story itself is not much more than any other young adult romance out there today only set in an earlier time.


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