Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith (Red Fox, 2001)
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (Red Fox, 2001)

If you like Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice in particular – you will probably enjoy this early twentieth century twist on a familiar story. If, like me, you find Austen rather dull and her characters frustrating, you might want to skip I Capture the Castle.

Set in the 1930s in England, this is the story of Cassandra Mortmain as told through her impossibly detailed journal. Perhaps I have a poorer memory than most but I struggle to believe that anyone can set down what happens to them in such extreme detail (including dialogue!) even if done immediately after.

Cassandra lives in a crumbling castle with her father, her step-mother, her older sister, her younger brother, and a servant boy who is unbelievably handsome and hopelessly in love with her. Her sister, Rose, is stunningly beautiful while her stepmother, Topaz, is artistic and quirky (and also very beautiful). To top it all off, Cassandra’s father is a famous writer who wrote a book, went to jail, and hasn’t written since. He spends his days in the gatehouse, doing who knows what, while the rest of them scrimp and save to put food on the table and keep themselves dressed. They’re impoverished but nobody can get a job except Stephen, who seems to be the one who does the most work around the castle anyway.

The best chance for change in their lives is for Rose and/or Cassandra to marry someone rich. This seems unlikely to happen in their small town until, conveniently, two handsome American brothers inherit the land on which the castle is built and move in nearby. Sure, the older one looks kind of like the devil, but you can fall in love with anybody if only they’re rich enough, right?

Yes, a lot of these issues come from a time and social setting that is foreign to me and I understand that it wasn’t so straightforward for a young girl from an upper class (no matter how poor they are, they’re still pretty posh) family to simply go out and get a job. My problem with Cassandra and I Capture the Castle is that she almost never takes matters into her own hands. Things just happen to her and around her and she reacts. Plus, a good portion of the book is given over to romantic yearnings that, were I too seventeen-years-old, I might have more sympathy for. But from my thirty-year-old perspective, I found myself rolling my eyes and speed-reading ahead, hoping something more interesting would happen. It didn’t.



Side note: I bought this book at a local thrift shop (hence the $1.00 sticker) and I’ve never heard of Red Fox books before but I have rarely read a published book with so many spelling and grammatical errors. Even for a dollar, I would probably avoid Red Fox in the future since there were so many little interruptions of this kind in my reading

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