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.
“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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