Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

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I Capture the Castle Summary

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I Capture the Castle is a novel by British author Dodie Smith, written during World War II and first published in 1948. Inspired by the author’s longing for home when she and her husband were living abroad in California, it centers on an eccentric family, the Mortmains, and their life in a run-down castle during the 1930s. It is narrated by Cassandra Mortmain, a sharp teenager who tells her family’s story through journal entries as she changes from girl to woman and goes through many key milestones in a girl’s life. A classic example of the coming-of-age story, I Capture the Castle explores themes of love, faith and religion, creativity, and what each person is willing to do to survive. Considered a classic of British literature, it was adapted by Smith into a two-act play with musical elements in 1954, and has since been adapted to the screen in 2003. A 2015 BBC radio drama was produced, and a full musical adaptation debuted at the Watford Palace Theatre in April 2017.

I Capture the Castle takes place over a six-month period, from April to October in an unidentified year in the 2930s. The Mortmain family is genteel and eccentric, but have fallen into severe poverty. Cassandra introduces the reader to the rest of her family. Her father James is a once-successful author who now suffers from severe writer’s block. He hasn’t published anything since his successful first novel, Jacob Wrestling. Although the challenging modernist novel established him as a writer, he has produced nothing since. Ten years before the events of the novel, on the high of his initial success, he took out a forty-year lease on a beautiful but run-down castle. He hoped it would bring him inspiration, but now his family is forced to sell off its trappings to afford food. James is a widower, and his second wife Topaz is an artist’s model who loves spending time in nature. She will often wander around the grounds nearly naked. His older daughter, Rose, is described as a classic beauty who spends most of her time pining away, wishing for a handsome and rich young man to come and sweep her off her feet. She often tells her sister Cassandra that she wishes to live in a Jane Austen novel. Cassandra, who tells the story in her journal, wishes to be a writer herself. She makes the best of her current situation by developing her writing talent and capturing the world around her in her journal. Younger brother Thomas is quiet and helps around the castle. Stephen, the son of the family’s late maid, still lives with them and is in love with Cassandra. She thinks he’s kind and noble, but finds his affection a bit awkward.

The family’s life is upended when the Cottons, a wealthy family from America, inherit the nearby Scoatney Hall. Scoatney is the owner of the castle, which makes the Cottons the Mortmains’ new landlords. They have two sons, both unmarried, named Simon and Neil, and Cassandra and Rose soon become fascinated by them. Neil, raised in California by his father, is a free-spirited young man who wants to return to America to become a rancher. By contrast, Simon was raised in New England by his mother, and is serious and studious. He loves the English countryside and is glad to be home. Simon, the elder brother, stands to inherit the family fortune and is already well-off. Rose, desperate to escape poverty, decides to try to marry him even though she isn’t attracted to him. At the first meeting, the Cottons find the Mortmains amusing, but Rose’s awkward and obvious flirting uts them off. The brothers plan to avoid interacting with the family, but Cassandra conspires to bring them back and convince them to give Rose a second chance. Initial awkwardness past, the two families become close friends and Rose realizes she really is attracted to Simon. Cassandra and Rose scheme to arrange a proposal, and soon enough Rose and Simon are engaged.

As Rose and Topaz go to London to purchase Rose’s wedding dress, Simon and Cassandra spend the evening together. After an intense conversation, they kiss. Cassandra is filled with guilt over this, but at the same time she finds herself becoming obsessed with him. She realizes that she has to find a way to reject Stephen’s affections for her in a way that she doesn’t hurt him too much. She does this by encouraging him to pursue his dream of becoming a model and actor, which will take him away from the castle. She also joins forces with Thomas to try to force her father out of his writer’s block by trapping him in a small tower within the castle until he creates something. She continues to write everything down in her journal, but she misses another drama going on under her nose. Rose and Neil have formed a connection of their own, and their seemingly acrimonious relationship is only a guise for their secret affair. They eventually elope, leaving Simon heartbroken. However, this gives Cassandra new hope. Simon plans to return to the United States, but he comes to see Cassandra first. Despite her feelings for him, Cassandra changes the subject when she thinks he’s about to propose to her, because she’s not sure if he’s over Rose. Her final journal entry ends with Cassandra reminding herself that Simon promised to return, and that she’ll always love him.
Dodie Smith was a British author and playwright, best known for her popular novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which was adapted multiple times by Disney into popular American films. She was the author of nine novels, eleven plays, two screenplays, and a four-volume autobiography. Nine movies have been based off her works.