Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"I Capture The Castle" Book Review

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is a novel written in diary form by the main character, seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. The book and her family are set in an interesting locale, a crumbling medieval castle in England. Though the book was written during the 1940's, it curiously lacks any mention of World War II.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The family is on the road to destitution due to Mr. Mortmain's severe case of writer's block. He had once authored a bestseller that brought him fame and prosperity, but for many years had been unable to write a sequel. They had hoped living in a castle would inspire him to write, but the years had gone by without him producing anything. The Mortmain's had sold off many of their possessions to survive, with the only thing left to sell Cassandra's beautiful older sister, Rose. Cassandra and Rose long for romance, and they finally get it when two American brothers move into the community.

The book shows that females are females, no matter the era. Girls can be quite competitive over beauty, possessions and men, but they are also absolutely loyal to those they genuinely love. Cassandra draws the unsuspecting Neil to swim in the moat while her true motive is to give Rose time alone with Simon. Later Cassandra becomes infatuated with her sister's fiance but does everything she can to suppress her feelings. Also, Cassandra's stepmother Topaz loves Mortmain so much she has gaping blind spots. Topaz is hopelessly taken for granted, but small encouragements make her glow, like when Mortmain protests her deliberately dowdy appearance when she wanted Rose to shine more brightly before prospective husbands.

Lillian Vernon Online
Women will follow their hearts even if the path leads to dangerous places, like Topaz following her husband into poverty and Rose moving to the California desert with Neil. Cassandra in particular demonstrates classic women's intuition when she quickly sizes up people's character. She knows her father's writer's block is poised to break or become permanent, so she imprisons him in the castle dungeon to force him to write. Her insight on the imbibing vicar, Rose and Stephen further show her incisive understanding of human nature, especially with her witticisms attributed to the mannequin Miss Blossom.

The Mortmain girls are driven by what they want and respond strongly on an emotional level, like Cassandra's explosive feelings for her sister's beau and her inability to conquer them. After Rose runs away with Neil and Simon asks Cassandra to come to the States, her intuition tells her she is second best, borne out of Simon's longing for Rose. She knows a marriage to him would ultimately fail because the love isn't reciprocal, and he softly calls her a "wise young judge."

One complaint about the novel would be that Cassandra's description of the castle is sketchy, making it hard to envision. Beyond that, the novel is a classic story of romance and adventure from a girls' perspective, before the days of cell phones and the internet. The story touches the heart and is a good one to read sitting by a fire and sipping a cup of tea.

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