I finished I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith the weekend before last. And what a wonderful weekend it was. As I mentioned previously, my beautiful boyfriend planned a getaway trip for the two of us. SURPRISE: After a 5-and-half hour car ride, we arrived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; leaving me utterly dumbfounded as to what he could possibly have planned.
BUT I knew where we were headed for he had cracked before we had even stepped out into the breezy streets of Winston-Salem.
J had found the Bookmarks Book Festival while performing a google search and thought I would really enjoy it. Ok, go ahead… he’s the best, I know. The festival was small, and we didn’t find much in the way of new literature, but the energy of the people scrambling around the small tents, the smell of food cooking on the open grills and the bright colors of the tents and signs against that dull, gray sky made it such an amazing day that I couldn’t stop smiling. We proceeded to find used book stores in the area, because what book adventure would be complete without returning home with arms full of books?!? We found the Edward McKay used book store, which is by far one of the best used book stores I’ve visited yet, and left with 7 books for a total just under 40 dollars! That’s pretty good if you ask me. Furthermore, the gray skies turned into scattered showers, so we spent the majority of the day relaxing in our hotel room, which gave me ample time to get lost in Smith’s I Capture the Castle, while J watched his favorite football team on the television.
I found I Capture the Castle on one of the Flashlight Worthy Book Lists. It was a recommended read for book clubs that wanted literature about love that would really ignite some discussion. I lucked out and found it at the library right away, well, it’s been out since 1947 so it wasn’t exactly on a waiting list, but I felt really lucky.
Now, I had attempted Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, and got about 40 pages in before I just decided that it wasn’t something I could get into presently, and was not about to force myself. Then, I started Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, with the same sentiment. I just wasn’t in the mood for reading a novel that was written from one perspective, in the form of letters to another person. I just couldn’t do it. So, when I started ICTC, I had my reservations as the entire novel is written in the form of journal entries from the protagonist’s point of view about herself and the people around her.
Low and behold, I was completely enchanted by the novel.
Cassandra Mortmain is a brilliant girl of 17, who lives with her eccentric family in an aging castle in the English countryside. She is exceptionally bright and captures the world around with vivid language in a notebook to develop her writing abilities. Her father, an exceptional writer, has been out of work for years following the success of a novel that catapulted him into international stardom. Her sister, Rose, is described as a classical beauty, who dreams of prince charming and sings the woes of the recent burden of poverty. Cassandra’s mother, Topaz, a model used by many forward-thinking artists of the day in London’s bustling art world, is quite unconventional in a newly adopted role of housekeeper/mother. Her brother, another clever pupil, spends most of his time at school. Finally, Stephen, a houseboy that has been with the family since childhood, spends his time trying to please and care for Cassandra, as he is intensely in love with her, a sentiment she does not share.
The family witnesses a sudden change of events when an American family, The Cottons, come to claim the home that resides on property near the aging castle, and to look upon the castle (they’ve also inherited) that the Mortmain family resides in. The family forges a special relationship with the Cottons, Simon and Neil. The family witnesses a transformation from the despondent circumstances they have found themselves in. Cassandra and Rose, who have seemingly fallen in love with the same individual, must face and induce heartache, respectively. The reader witnesses the changes in Cassandra’s mood and maturity through her writing, and must note her adept skill describing the beautiful, natural landscape that surrounds her. In the end, Cassandra leaves the reader with an outlook of the start to new beginnings and a gratitude for the changes that have occurred, regardless of some of the more negative aspects of those adjustments.
The work holds a special place in my heart simply because Cassandra’s character describes the natural landscape surrounding the castle, and the castle itself, so perfectly that those created images resonant in my mind long after I’ve finished a particular paragraph.
I highly recommend this read to anyone that enjoys self-reflection, maturation and descriptions of the human experience of love. I Capture the Castle is a great Fall/Winter read, especially on those chilly days, when the only uplifting thought is that of a bright Spring day!
P.S. Happy Fall, Everyone!