Cassandra Captures The Castle And My Heart

The Absolute Enchantment Of Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle

As an introvert, I do need to be reminded sometimes that I live in my body as well as my head.

I was thinking about this the other day while reading a marvellous passage in Dodie Smith’s wonderful book, I Capture The Castle.

The book’s narrator, 17 year-old Cassandra Mortmain is, as one critic put it, poised between childhood and adultery.

And the book is as much her journey from charming ingenue to woman of the world as it is the tales she recounts of her and her eccentric, penniless family living in their rundown castle home in 1940s England.

At this point in the book, Cassandra is dealing with the sensations stirred in her by the exotically American half-brothers Simon and Neil Cotton, whose rich family have inherited nearby Scoatney Hall and are now her family’s landlords, and her newly complicated relationship with Stephen, the handsome if reliably predictable hired hand she is realising is besotted with her.

Alone, for once, in the castle, Cassandra, gets a sudden longing to lie out in the sun, naked.

She climbs up to a secluded tower, and lies out on a blanket.

She writes:

“What a difference there is between wearing even the skimpiest bathing-suit and wearing nothing! After a few moments I seemed to live in every inch of my body as fully as I usually do in my head and my hands and my heart. I had the fascinating feeling that I could think as easily with my limbs as with my brain — and suddenly the whole of me thought that Topaz’s nonsense about communing with nature isn’t nonsense at all.”

You know that glorious piece of writing, or description, that captures something  you have have been kind of aware of but barely understood, and now it all makes sense to you?

Well this is one of those for me.

Even better, the passage, and what follows, also captures, for me, those deliciously tortured feelings around the coming of age and of love not yet understood.

Men and woman will recognise this emotional landscape … the familiar now newly strange.

There is the obvious erotic frisson, of course, but this is as much to do with what is unsaid as said.

On a broader plane, it also crackles with the electricity of those moments when one feels most alive, as in touch with one’s body and one’s feelings as with one’s thoughts and theories.

These moments can be encountered anywhere, and while the intensity may vary, the effect never lessens.

Just a few strike me now: sitting in our sunlit summer garden drinking coffee; my closed eyes fluttering warmly as I stretch out on a beach; kicking football as a boy and those games I never wanted to end.

The title I Capture The Castle comes from Cassandra’s efforts to capture as accurately as she can the actual castle and grounds the family live in, and the people who inhabit her world.

These range from her one-hit wonder author father and her delightfully daffy yet deeply caring step-mother Topaz, to her gold-digging with some-saving graces older sister Rose, who is willing to marry soulful Simon, however much he bores her, to escape the mortifying penury she has endured to now, and their younger brother Thomas.

Of course being soulful is just what Cassandra finds so attractive about Simon …

As in the very best stories, the minor characters in the book are as vividly drawn as the rest.

Even Cassandra’s beloved dog Heloise and cat Abelard are beautifully rendered.

How about this for a line, specially for any one of you who has a dog who is always trying to lick the inside of your ear (Or is it only our Bella and Lily who do this?)

“Hel(oise) has never found an ear that did not need mothering.”

To die for!

The tale unfolds through a combination of Cassandra’s coded journal entries and her wonderfully entertaining and humane ruminations on her life up to and after the emotional bombshell that is the arrival of the Cotton family into the Mortmains’ lives.

I can only recommend, if you have not done so already, you discover the magic of I Capture The Castle  for yourself.

It’s so good, I have been putting off finishing it.

*My Word of ther Week (#WotW) is Reading: the post is inspired by a great  book!

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29 comments on “Cassandra Captures The Castle And My Heart

  1. Enda, it’s been decades since I’ve read it and many years since I saw the movie version. If you haven’t seen it, do. And tell us what you thought about it. Bill Nighy played the dad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds interesting .. it would have to be good to make me forget the book, though. I also have reservations about Nighy … Always likeable but seems to me always the same?


  2. I am so relieved you mentioned the dog thing, I honestly thought it was just my dog who had a weird thing for ears; strange creatures, but absolutely adorable and so full of love. Anyway, I digress, I’m mid two books at the moment, but this really does sound like a must to be added to the list. Thanks for sharing, it’s always good to get book recommendations x


    Liked by 1 person

    • Both our dogs love to do it, Lisa … Bella, especially loves to walk up behind one of us when we are sitting on the couch, lean in, and lick away!!


  3. I love it when a book captures your heart and emotions and you can find some real treasures in the writing. I found this when reading ‘Three Things About Elsie’ so many phrases that you could just pick out and absorb. It makes you think about the little things in life, I guess like dogs licking your ears. I haven’t read I capture the Castle, so I’ll put it on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thanks for linking up to #wotw x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed reading this wonderful review, Enda. You make the book sound so appealing! I will have to look it up. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my word, it is an incredible work: I have only hinted at some of what it contains, Laurie. I’ve just finished it and it is one hard act to follow!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. OK. I now want to read this book. #wotw

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like one of those perfect books that are occasionally stumbled upon and are forever remembered. It’s not often that happens. The last for me was Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Zafon. I’m now off to seek out Capture the Castle. #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have never heard of this book before but I think I need to check it out x # WotW


  9. I so do love a book that you put off reading, because you want to savour every single moment in it. Right to the very last page. This sounds like one of those books! It’s a fab review and i’ll definitely be looking into getting a copy. Thanks for sharing with the #DreamTeam 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. loopyloulaura

    Ooh I’m not sure if I have read this one. I have read a few of Dodie Smith’s books but not sure about this one (may have read it 20 years ago but my memory is terrible: as soon as I’ve finished a book, I immediately forget it!) Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  11. twicemicrowavedtea

    I’ve never read this book, but you’ve really encouraged me to find a copy. There’s no better feeling than finding a book so good that you don’t want it to end – and no worse feeling than when it does actually end! #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This book sounds amazing, I’m putting it forward to my book club to see if we can make it our next read! #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I Capture the Castle is a wonderful book. I haven’t read it for years and now I’m tempted to go and re-read it having read your thoughts on it. Those moments when you feel at your most alive are wonderful ones and often it’s the simplest things that trigger them, isn’t it? #WotW


  14. This sounds like such an intriguing book. Pretty sure that I have never read it. But I do so get what you are saying about being so caught in wonderful moments. Sometimes you just want to pause time and never let them end. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love those pieces of writing that just capture your attention and speak to you on a deeper level. Sometimes just a couple of sentences can convey so much. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Kate Holmes

    Not read but think think I have heard of it or perhaps a film like it. Must do some research. I do believe a gutsier Kate would be a naturist – I can absolutely see the appeal in so many ways. I love how here in France I need to worry less about what other people think of me (as it invariably seems positive here) so I show more flesh anyway which means the sun and wind give pleasure as they should. Moments of feeling physical and alive – for me you took me right back to painting the shed with my Dad. As I live in my head probably way too much I find anything like that do dry-stone walling gives me such a thrill Back again without a linky #nolinky


    • I can only recommend you do, Kate: brilliant story and writing, and one of the most engaging and adorable narrators ever! France seems to be agreeing with you anyway. It was a great time in my own life, my French interlude.


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