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I Capture the Castle

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Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

408 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1948

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About the author

Dodie Smith

99 books949 followers
Born Dorothy Gladys Smith in Lancashire, England, Dodie Smith was raised in Manchester (her memoir is titled A Childhood in Manchester). She was just an infant when her father died, and she grew up fatherless until age 14, when her mother remarried and the family moved to London. There she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and tried for a career as an actress, but with little success. She finally wound up taking a job as a toy buyer for a furniture store to make ends meet. Giving up dreams of an acting career, she turned to writing plays, and in 1931 her first play, Autumn Crocus, was published (under the pseudonym “C.L. Anthony”). It was a success, and her story — from failed actress to furniture store employee to successful writer — captured the imagination of the public and she was featured in papers all over the country. Although she could now afford to move to a London townhouse, she didn't get caught up in the “literary” scene — she married a man who was a fellow employee at the furniture store.

During World War II she and her husband moved to the United States, mostly because of his stand as a conscientious objector and the social and legal difficulties that entailed. She was still homesick for England, though, as reflected in her first novel, I Capture the Castle (1948). During her stay she formed close friendships with such authors as Christopher Isherwood and John Van Druten, and was aided in her literary endeavors by writer A.J. Cronin.

She is perhaps best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, a hugely popular childrens book that has been made into a string of very successful animated films by Walt Disney. She died in 1990.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,378 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,215 reviews9,893 followers
February 1, 2014
My name is Cassandra Mortmain, I know it sounds made up but it’s true. I’m 17 and bright as a button and never been kissed because it’s the 1930s. My family are effortlessly bohemian, we all live in a crumbling castle – oh yes, quite literally! – and we have no money at all and we have only barely heard of the twentieth century. How poor we are since father stopped earning any money. He used to be a genius but now he does crosswords. We eat the occasional potato and scrape plaster off the walls for pudding. We have thought of cooking one of our dogs but that would not do. Also, something you should be aware of, although you will find out pretty soon I believe, is that I suffer from acute logorrhoea, which is a debilitating condition that impels its victim to write a never-ending journal into which is debouched every last possible banal but extremely charming detail of one’s life and that of one’s immediate family, which is, the pulchritudinous Rose, my 21 year old sister, my doughty schoolboy brother, my poor damaged papa who wrote one brilliant book once but has since sunk into a kind of bewilderment, and his nude model youngish wife, the unusual lute-playing nature-communing Topaz whom we love immoderately in spite of her frank farfetchedness, along with various cats and dogs with classically-derived names and a servant boy called Stephen who gauchely is in love with my 17 year old preciousness and whom we do not pay but who contrives to be preternaturally handsome and work for us for free. Anyone might think I have made all this up out of my own coquettish head!

We may live in a literal castle but we haven’t got the price of a loaf of bread. It’s enough to make a cat laugh. Our situation is so wry that fairly broad comedy oozes from its very pores. Rose said only last night that she was quite up to walking the streets to earn a crust if she thought it would do any good, but the quaint rural byways of the Suffolk countryside don’t possess the required type of street. So here I am, as usual, sitting on something odd, it could be a turret, or a tuffet or a large mammal, carefully noting down in my journal everything I hear and see along with the weather at the time and the precise location of the several animals we own, what I am wearing and what my immediate family are wearing, with various passing references to the utter beauty of the crumbling literal castle that we all inhabit over which the moon sheds its downy light and lambent whatnots.

Four months later

Something has actually happened! Yes, new owners of the mansion have taken possession – new neighbours! And it’s just like a fairytale, for they are none other than two handsome American bachelors, with whom I and my sister will fall in love, and they with ourselves, naturellement. But not before many pages of microscopic examination of every trifling occurrence so that a single evening in their company will take 30 pages for me to detail and the sisterly debate about it another ten. And certainly not before much gentle yet sharply observed observations on the romantic yearnings of two beautiful yet penniless girls who get the brothers the wrong way round at first. Now, let me explain how I first met the American brothers. I was in the bath and I had been dying clothes that day, so my entire body was coloured a violent sea-green, and they wandered into the crumbling castle thinking no one could possibly live there. Imagine the scene! They took me for some kind of turtle.
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 81 books168k followers
June 26, 2016
What a generous caretaker of a novel.

If I say that this novel didn't require me to do any work, it sounds like a vague insult, as if I'm saying that the story or the characters were slight, and that's not at all what I mean. I mean that the novel, both through format (a very self-aware narrator's journal) and authorial intent (with a firm eye on the sort of story-telling pedigree that brought her there), anticipated my readerly needs and desires with such swiftness that I felt agreeably anticipatory and satisfied at all times. I did not have to tell myself to be patient to wait for one plot line to play out, because the book helpfully plied me with a pleasant drink while I waited. I did not feel done after it had given me a good meal, because right before the last course, it promised dessert.

The summary is accurate and pointless. It is about Cassandra writing about herself in a journal. Their family is penniless. They do live in a castle. She is, as it promises, deeply, hopelessly in love.

But not with any of the men in the book. They're all intriguing in their own way, don't get me wrong, and she does love many of them, in many different ways. The novel takes place in one of my favorite intellectual time periods to read and study, and this book plays across all of its nuances: artists' models and intellectuals, servants' quarters and vicars, romanticism and mysticism, the religion of church and the religion of a well-turned-out drawing room. But all of that is sort of beyond the point. The point is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly in love with life, and her utter, wry engagement with the castle she adores is what pulled me through the pages. Her voice is kind and self-deprecating, generous and wondering. The humans she observes — Topaz, her often-nude step-mother; Rose, her selfish and hungry sister; Mortmain, her once-famous father — are all seen through this well-meaning gaze, and even terrible events are colored with love (even when I thought characters could do with a polite punch in the mouth).

This book took very good care of me. It goes onto my comfortable re-read shelf immediately.
Profile Image for Martine.
145 reviews692 followers
July 14, 2008
This is going to be the shortest review I've written on this site in a while. The reason I'm going to keep it short is because no description could possibly do justice to this quintessentially English coming-of-age story which ranks among the most pleasant surprises I've had, book-wise. A summary would make it sound slight, trite and predictable, all of which it is, and would not reflect the fact that it's also funny as hell, charismatic, deliciously eccentric, Austenesque and so utterly charming that I quite literally had sore cheeks after reading it because I couldn't stop smiling at the delightful nonsense the incomparable Cassandra Mortmain spilled out on the pages. I'm not exaggerating here -- this book will charm the pants off you, especially if you happen to have two X chromosomes and a bad case of Anglophilia. It's what would happen if an early-twentieth-century Jane Austen were to grow up in a dilapidated castle and get into financial trouble, and that's all I'm going say about it, except that I want to be Cassandra Mortmain when I grow down. Only I think I'll write my book on a computer rather than sitting in the kitchen sink, because it would be so much more comfortable, thank you very much.

Profile Image for Elliott.
334 reviews41 followers
May 3, 2010
That's right. I really liked it. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. Now, would you please excuse me while I go read Hemingway and then kill something with my bare hands.
Profile Image for emma.
1,866 reviews54.4k followers
April 3, 2020
The first half of this was like Jane Austen herself descended from the heavens (godlike) and delivered me, personally, a gift.

The second half of this is like Jane Austen removed the mask and revealed she was just Some Romance Writer - not to be confused with a good romance writer, of which there are many - and then she also punched me in the stomach.

In other words, I suffered unimaginably.

Everyone goes ON and ON about this protagonist, Cassandra. “She is the most charming creature in the history of the world,” says JK Rowling. “She is a hero,” says a heroic person. “She is me reincarnated,” says God.

And yeah, at first she’s pretty cool. Very cool, even.

But then she sucks.

Basically everyone was great at first, and then everyone sucks, and also the book was great at first and then sucks. (Don’t make this into some grand metaphor about life - I suffered!!!!)

This is not even my sometimes-bias against romance showing. (Except okay maybe it is a little bit.) But in this book we go from a quirky ragtag family living in a dilapidated CASTLE in the English COUNTRYSIDE to...unrequited love. And sisterly hate. And family separation. And heartbreak and betrayal and sorrow and a whole lot of other things.

Things that are my least favorite things.

In conclusion: #JusticeforStephen2020.

Bottom line: This may have been designed as a torture device for me, specifically, using a complicated series of time machines and nightmare infiltration.


too much lovey-dovey stuff, not enough practical instruction on the day-to-day of castle acquisition.

review to come / 3ish stars
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
March 9, 2021
4+ stars. Recommended if you like historical coming-of-age fiction.

I had never heard of I Capture the Castle until a friend gave it an extremely strong recommendation. Dodie Smith is the author of The 101 Dalmatians (the original basis for the Disney movie, and the only reason I was familiar with her name), which I read many years ago and really enjoyed.

This 1948 novel is about an intelligent 17 year old girl, Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in semi-genteel but crushing poverty in mid-1930s England, in a dilapidated castle. Cassandra has ambitions of becoming an author like her father. Her story is told in the form of her journal entries, as she practices her writing skills to try to learn to “capture” the castle, as well as the people in her life, in her writing.

Cassandra skillfully describes her father’s distance and failure to do anything to provide for the family, her stepmother’s charm and eccentricity, and her older sister Rose’s despair at their isolation and poverty. But what broke my heart was her matter-of-fact descriptions of how their poverty affects their lives every day: the too-small, worn-out clothing the girls have to wear; her gratitude for having eggs along with bread and margarine for their evening meal; the way the girls trade off sleeping in the one comfortable bed in their room (which hasn’t been sold only because it’s in such bad shape). Rose, the more beautiful sister, is grimly determined to escape from poverty, even if she has to marry a man she doesn't love. When two young American brothers move into town (the older son, Simon, is the family’s new and wealthy landlord), the Mortmains’ lives are all turned topsy-turvy, with love, romance and secrets.

Cassandra’s insights into own and others’ personalities and motivations are sharp and witty, and occasionally even a little prophetic; I think the symbolism of her name from Greek mythology is deliberate, although she misses at least one major secret that a member of her own family is hiding. The characters are believable and human, sometimes frustratingly so with their flaws. I particularly wanted to smack Cassandra's father upside the head: he's a well-known author with one famous book to his credit, but for the last ten years he's been struggling with a massive case of writer's block, hiding away in his home office reading detective novels and working on crosswords, while his family sells the furniture to survive.

I thought there were just a few missteps in the story: the chain of unrequited love interests was pushing the boundaries of believability (woman wants boy, who loves girl, who loves another guy, who loves another girl, who loves…). I guessed one big reveal at the end fairly early in the story. Cassandra spends a chapter or two examining her views on religion and talking to the local vicar, and then never mentions it again, which made me wonder why it was included in the first place.

But these are minor flaws. Cassandra is an enchanting character and a fantastic narrator, surrounded by some unforgettable characters. This is a lovely, bittersweet novel that doesn't go for the easy resolution.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books777 followers
November 21, 2022
A horrible, contrived mess of a novel, full of detestable characters and ridiculous stereotypes.

Also, if you're going to have your characters roar with laughter, it's a good idea to provide a suitable reason for this. The characters in this book continually roared and screamed with laughter, but never at anything particularly funny, which made them seem mentally unhinged rather than good-humoured.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,253 followers
May 20, 2016
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Dear I Capture the Castle,

What to say, what to say? Hard to put down all the feelings. To put it simply: you did everything right. The characterization like flowers slowly blooming. The story like seasons changing, invisibly but inevitably. The romance made both heartfelt and utterly, often infuriatingly real. The details, oh the details! I was put right into this world and right into Cassandra's head. And the charm! You are such a charming book - so amusing and so sweet-tempered yet with a certain saltiness as well, and a sharp tang. Head in the clouds; feet firmly planted on earth. You are a love letter to the past and to writing and to what makes a home and to young people with all of their future ahead of them and older people who have all of their future ahead of them. You are a love letter to love! I fell in love with you in turn. I would change nothing about you.

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Dear Friends,

It is so very nice that we have this book in common! I congratulate us on our mutual good taste! Our ability to enter into a new world and experience new things and new people with patience and an open heart are all hallmarks of our exquisitely nuanced, tender, and subtle sensibilities, as well as our sublime and near-saintly powers of empathy! People like us are, as they say, "Simply The Best"! Now let's have a nice cup of tea together, shall we?

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Profile Image for Laurie.
32 reviews
September 5, 2007
With many of my favorite books I can still remember the person who put a copy in my hands. Matilda was given to me for my 8th birthday by my stepdad, the title Pride and Prejudice scribbled on a piece of paper and handed to me by my young (must've been straight out of college) 7th grade English teacher-- she gave me the paper and sent me to the library to find it, and I still remember sitting in that classroom taking in the opening page with grand delight ....

I hadn't ever heard of I Capture the Castle until Stephanie handed me a yellowed beaten up well loved copy. To keep! (At least, I think it was for keeps-- was it Stephanie?! I still have it if you need it back!) I was about to leave for France. I saved the book for the trip, started it in Bretagne in a little loft bedroom and couldn't put it down. Read it late at night when everyone else was sleeping, sometimes suck outside and read it with a pack of Camel oranges. The story is lovely, haunting, hilarious. One of the great poor-girls-coming-of-age stories.... And any girl who has a tendency to romanticize the world in bizarre ways will find a kindred spirit in Cassandra. I know I did.
Profile Image for Alyson.
11 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2008
i found this book to alternate between delightful and infuriating.

here is the delightful:  
-images of the english countryside and the crumbling, fantastic castle
-cassandra's optimism and intelligence (pre-simon)
-perfect descriptions of peaceful, contemplative moments

and here is the infuriating:
-cassandra's father. a supposed genius but in reality a sexist, abusive, loathsome, distant fellow. he appears sporadically to ignore his children, leave his wife lonely, make everyone question his sanity and demand his supper from the ladies of the house. the frustrating part of this character is that his terrible behavior is overlooked and often glorified when he should be taken to task. i spent a good part of this book longing for someone to throw him into the moat.

-cassandra's personality meltdown after "falling in love". the optimistic, intelligent, loving, happy girl turns at once into a mean-spirited, self centered fool. she begins to hate her sister and engage in other sorts of petty, miserable behavior. not only is her change of heart unbelievable in how quickly and totally she becomes a different (mean, angry, self-centered) person, but  somehow the author seems to insinuate that this very change of heart (for the worst!) is in itself the act of growing up. what a sad commentary on aging cassandra's behavior is!

the back of the book declares, "by the time she (cassandra) pens her final entry, she has captured the castle. . ."
i do not believe that cassandra "captures the castle" by the end of this book. i think she loses the castle. she has lost her optimism and her ability to write without a certain bitterness. her words are tainted by her own anger/sadness/jealousy about her troublesome "love". i feel that capturing the castle would have meant cassandra maintaining  her original good nature, selflessness and happiness despite her failure in love. it would have been rectifying (in person) her horrid behavior towards her sister and most certainly standing up to her father.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,107 reviews6,569 followers
August 6, 2016
I was expecting to absolutely adore this and am so sad that I hated it :( This was honestly just SO boring and unnecessarily long and I didn't care for any of the characters. Their father was abusive and horrible and nobody seemed to care and they were all so superficial! All they cared about was money and status and Cassandra was so horrible to everyone! Poor Stephen omg. Also, the ending SUCKED, so there's that.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
815 reviews616 followers
September 9, 2017
This novel was darn near perfect.

Cassandra & her family inhabit a castle in conditions of extreme poverty. Cassandra captures both her family's character & their eccentric life style beautifully in her journals (a very rare example of a diary narration working) . Different styles & depths of love are explored. I will never be persuaded that Cassandra's father is a likeable (or even admirable) character, but genius is often uncomfortable to be around.

A chance to enter a long vanished world that should not be missed.
Profile Image for Melissa Rudder.
175 reviews244 followers
February 11, 2008
Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle is a charming and surprising read. I was enchanted by the first paragraph, but never did I imagine that it would be the sort of book that left me speechless at the end--in awe and contemplative and wanting to read more but knowing that anything else I picked up just wouldn't feel right.

The narrator, who is consciously attempting to "capture" in her journal her family's eccentric and impoverished life in their unfurnished, deteriorating castle home, is simply enchanting. The book is very much about writing--the seventeen-year-old protagonist Cassandra aspires to be a writer and her strange father rose to fame through the art--and Smith weaves a tale full of wit and charm. As I read, I was struck by the tension between my desire to read quickly to watch the story unfold and my desire to savor each delightful description and thoughtful reflection.

The novel took me completely by surprise when it shifted tone near its middle. I realize now that the early parts of the novel were the records of a carefree and intelligent child and that, in the later parts, the child must begin to grow up. I, as a reader, felt the burden of her maturing outlook. It felt like a nineteenth-century Romance was smacked upside the head with Modernist Realism. And I think Smith was going for that. She warned me partway through. (I didn't want to listen.) The early parts of the book were sprinkled with allusions to Austen and the Bronte sisters while the latter half was more preoccupied with Cassandra's father's clearly Modernist work. There was more rural country in the beginning and more city life at the end. Even a shift in discussion of art, from Topaz's paintings and lute to Stephen's photographs and films. So I guess it had to have a more realistic end. Though Austen wouldn't have ended the book the way I'd have liked it to end anyway--Robert Martin may be suitable for Harriet Smith, but even the best of his class wouldn't have been acceptable for Emma. And perhaps even Emma could not have been taught to deserve one such as he.

I still can't sum up this book. Except that I think that I loved it.


"Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing."

"When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it--or rather, it is like living it."

"My imagination longs to dash ahead and plan developments; but I have noticed that when things happen in one's imaginings, they never happen in one's life, so I am curbing myself."

"Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression."

"I know all about the facts of life. And I don't think much of them."

"The originators among writers--perhaps, in a sense, the only true creators--dip deep and bring up one perfect work; complete, not a link in a chain."

"It was like the difference between the beautiful old Godsend graves and the new ones open to receive coffins... that time takes the ugliness and horror out of death and turns it into beauty."

On Religion: "I think it is an art, the greatest one; and extension of the communion all the other arts attempt."

On the word God: "It's merely shorthand for where we come from, where we're going, and what it's all about."

"Sacrifice is the secret--you have to sacrifice things for art and it's the same with religions; and then the sacrifice turns out to be a gain."

"You lose yourself in something beyond yourself and it's a lovely rest."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,272 followers
May 11, 2009
It is difficult for me to say why I found I Capture the Castle so personally meaningful, which may mean that I will be falling all over myself in this review. When I first started reading I was bored and feared that the poverty of the characters would become dirty and depressing for its own sake, as in Angela's Ashes. Instead, it's more like a lovely BBC movie where people are always chewing with their mouth open, but somehow it is only charming. At first I resisted liking anything about it, including Cassandra's repeated use of the word "capture", but now I find myself thinking about how to describe this or that and involuntarily using the word "capture" in my thoughts. The story is at times screwball and at times elegant but always delightful and completely won me over.

Perhaps part of the reason I resisted this book is that I came to it thinking it would be romance (because of the movie poster cover of the book, which says something like, "A well-loved classic that has become the most romantic movie of the year" - hate those movie poster covers), but it is actually, more than anything, a coming of age story. I say this because I think that whether you prefer coming-of-age or romance, it helps to know what you're getting into when you start a book. In my experience, romantic novels solve the problems of life by bringing characters together in true love. I Capture the Castle is written through Cassandra's eyes, so it does not rely on romantic satisfaction to tell the story, as, perhaps, it would have if it were told by another character in the same book. Rather, like any good coming of age story, develops through revelations of the unreliability of people around Cassandra and her discovery her own independence and capabilities.

I must confess that what first hooked me on this book was Simon's beard. I have said that I am a sucker for a good fish story, and it turns out that I think I am a sucker for a good beard story, too. I thought the girls' fascination and horror over his beard were both hilarious and correct. I wonder why I don't see beards in stories more often. Really, when anyone I have known has a beard, it comes up in conversation almost any time the person is mentioned - and rightly so. I once asked a friend of mine, who had a bushy beard before he met his fiance, why he would have chosen to grow it out like that. He said that the reason any man who can grow a big bushy beard should is that the bigger your beard, the more authority you have over people in general and specifically over other men. He said there is something almost magical about having a big bushy beard that makes other people have to do whatever you want. I told him that was absolutely silly. Then, about a week later I was at the grocery store deciding which line to go through, and one of the checkers, who was otherwise very ordinary looking, had an enormous, bushy beard. I instinctively went to his line, and then a second later was shocked to realized that I had only done that because of the beard. I don't know if that proves my friend's point, but it has to mean something. I wonder if the castle girls weren't experiencing something like this beard-hypnosis in the beginning of the novel.

To go ahead and beat this beard point to death: I also thought it was lovely how Dodie Smith developed the beard's story. I always see authors showing the physical changes love supposedly brings to women, but not men. The women are pale and thin until they fall in love, when suddenly they become healthy looking. In I Capture the Castle Simon looks suspiciously like Satan, until he falls in love and shaves the beard. Brilliant! Also, it has the self-serving overtones of Elizabeth Bennet's visit to Pemberly in Pride and Prejudice, when the mansion shows Mr. Darcy's manners in a different light. Beardless Simon makes even his actions when bearded much less sinister. Love it.

You may not believe me, if you have read this far, when I say that Simon's beard was not what was personally meaningful to me about this story. Not surprisingly, I think it was Cassandra herself who seemed so profound. In many ways I did not identify with her, but I loved her. I found myself crying at times, not necessarily because her growing pains revealed my own, but only in sympathy for this new friend I found, who I love so much. I loved how wise and kind and scrappy she was. I actually loved every character in this novel, though, as they all had some kind of magical and hilarious individuality. It is tempting to copy some of the most beautiful moments here, but instead I think you should just read the book. On the one hand, I am sad that I did not read this in high school, when I think it may have been a more cathartic experience, but I wonder if its honesty might have hurt my feelings then. As it is, I found it both refreshing and comforting.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,950 reviews436 followers
August 24, 2023
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?

I had high hopes for I Capture the Castle. Not being a Modern Classics person but loving Cold Comfort Farm I had the view that it would be fairly similar. It was fairly similar, but nowhere near as good: in fact, I'd say it was the same thing but written by a three-year-old like some kind of early Public School attempt at a pastiche.

The story in itself is nothing particularly exciting. It is a regular family saga, with pennies missing and food scarce, selfish women who can't do any work themselves unless it involves getting naked (either modelling or for sexual intercourse reasons) and can survive only by marriage. Which LUCKILY happens, so yippee! all of which is seen and narrated through the eyes and lips of seventeen year old Cassandra.

One cannot even blame the times this book was written in because, even though no woman has ever had a back-bone pre-2012 , one still hopes they would at least starve to death before lowering themselves to marrying Americans, for goodness sake.

The characters are all facsimiles of the lower-upper-middle class of England who probably had a bit of Old Money tucked away but spent it all on a charming castle because, well, you would, wouldn't you? The Castle was the best character of the whole piece. That thing had style and sophistication, and that's saying something considering it was half-caved in and needed blowing up with C-4, let alone new wallpaper. One would hope that at least one character would have a personality, but instead we have a mixed bunch of people who all seem to have one trait and wear it loudly. I can't even hear Celia Johnson's accent in this bunch because they all seemed to whisper a lot, even when they were apparently shouting.

What more can be said? I think it was an attempt to be satirical at the posh nobs in the same way Cold Comfort Farm was, and maybe tried it's hardest to be a kind of new-wave post-Victorian classic saga of life and love but was also denouncing those flouncy writers who bloody loved the countryside too much how dare they when they lived in the Industrial Revolution and the countryside didn't even exist any more, but sadly it was nothing but utter toilet bowl water.
May 1, 2021
I Capture the Castle was a disappointment. The blurb had lead me to believe that I was going to experience the pleasures of living in a beautiful castle, steeped in history, with a charming story weaving in perfectly with that castle, lead by our narrator, Cassandra. Unfortunately, that isn't what I experienced. There was a lot I didn't enjoy about this book, but I'll start with the positive.

The cover is gorgeous. It looks pretty good in my bookcase, but after reading it, I'm not sure whether it still has a place there. The descriptions of the countryside are quaint, and I liked the atmosphere created by Smith in regards to the castle. I felt like I was really walking around it, breathing in it's ancient scent.

The negative;

Cassandra's Father is the most pig-ignorant and frustrating character that I've come across in literature in a while. He's arrogant, rather abusive, sexist to the very core, he ignores his wife and children (yet they still dote on him) demands meals when he wants them from the women even though there is no money coming in because all he does all day is hide upstairs twiddling his thumbs and doing the odd crossword. He is a character that added nothing to the plot, except annoyance and irritation for me.

When Cassandra falls in love, her personality goes out of the window. She becomes quite self-centred, odd and her usual optimistic manner on life, disappears. I found this to be depressing, and not enjoyable to read about.

So, did Cassandra capture the castle by the end of the story? No, I don't think she did. By the end, I think she had changed as a person, and definitely not in a positive way.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,627 followers
December 21, 2020
I'm glad I finished my reading year of 2014 with this book because this was amazing!
Cassandra starts out as the sweetest child who conducts a diary which she writes through speed-writing. I found this very entertaining because we get to be inside a 17-year-old girl's mind and see things from her perspective. Cassandra is quite naïve, but she is also so adorable that you can't help but fall in love with her. The same goes for her family and Stephen who was my favourite character.
I LOVED the first half of this book and how we get to see Cassandra and her sister grow up so quickly. I also loved the storyline and the mildly crazy father and stepmother, and I loved the several interesting scenes that we are presented with. I liked the second half of the book as well, but that's when Cassandra's behaviour started annoying me a lot and I didn't understand all of her decisions. That's what makes me give this book 4 stars, but despite its deficiencies this is such an enjoyable and quick read, and I think everyone should read it at least once in their lifetime :)
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews806 followers
February 4, 2020
This book changed my life.

It was recommended to me by the librarian at school and at first I was a bit apprehensive. I was a timid reader when I was thirteen, I'd rarely read anything other than Harry Potter. But this book, from the very first page, gripped me in a way that no other book ever has done. I sat with the book on my lap under the table in every lesson at school, I passed on watching the television when I got home, instead rushing to my room to curl up on my couch and continue reading.

This is the book that I have to thank for my love of literature. I opened my mind and unlocked within me an addiction that means I can't let a day go by without turning the pages of a book.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
September 9, 2023
Rather uneven and underwhelming for me, swinging as a pendulum between a kind of Jane Austen marriage focussed love triangle story and a children book
Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing

Very conversational and meandering. The main character grated quite a bit on me, with the continuous “I want something badly, but it never is going to happen” and “Oh, it happened, but I didn’t end up taking the opportunity because I like drama/I just don’t know” vibe.

In I Capture the Castle we follow Cassandra Mortmain, resident of a falling apart British castle, which she inhabits with a brother (Thomas), a sister (Rose), a rather ethereal stepmother (Topaz), her writerly father and a handsome servant and orphan Stephen.
The characters are rather exuberant in how they are portrayed by Dodie Smith, Topaz for instance is tall and pale as a slightly dead goddess.
Also there is a dog called Heloise.

Cassandra keeps a diary, and at first it is mostly meandering observations on how poor they are and how hard everything is. Then Stephen finds a job as a model and the American owners of the castle show up.
I remember writing down: are they all getting married at the end? And basically the book takes a rather Jane Austen like turn to being marriage obsessed, with a poor family (in this case actual poor, instead of relatively) trying to marrying into a richer one. In this conflagration Cassandra is becoming aware of her attractiveness to the boys in her vicinity.
Along the way the number of times Cassandra is called a child, would have made teenage me go ballistic. The attention to the contrast between American and British English (and the Brits having history but no money, and the Americans being precisely the reverse) is interesting. As are cocktails and cherry brandy for 17 year olds being normal.

Faux Britishness was something I wrote down, everyone talks in a kind of over the top British manner, that makes you feel like watching a period drama instead of the dealings of real characters. Also that the time is not made explicit, with gramophones and cars emerging and clashing with a crumbling castle without electricity, makes it hard for me to deem the setting very realistic or well rendered.

In general I feel the whole character of Cassandra just changes 100% after a midsummer encounter, that kind of pops up in the narrative randomly. This might be realistic of teenagers developing, but for me felt forced or overly constructed.
The whole swooning over Simon and ignoring Stephen, but leading him on at the same time, hardly makes me more interested in the main character or the book in general
If you forgive me, just squeeze my hand was a scene very tenderly done, but in general I can hardly say I cared much about any of the characters, who all seem rather unsympathetic.
The transformative power of money on Rose is a particular example of this.

Also the whole plot of locking up a parent in an absurd manner, like a children book fantasy, feels rather off near the end of the book. The whole twist at the end for me was rather unexpected and unfulfilling.

In general, as I read more and more, I felt less and less engaged with the book. Every diary entry start with a conclusion/tease, and is then coloured in, with enormous details. I Capture the Castle is an odd mix of genres and didn't manage to win me over as reader.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,061 reviews495 followers
November 1, 2022
I am giving this book 3.5 stars. While reading the first two parts of this book, I thought for sure it was a 5-star read. The writing of Cassandra’s diary was at times laugh-out-loud funny, and for a good rest of the time just laugh-to-myself funny. I thought the writing was just superb for the first half of the book, easily 5 stars. But then

In the Introduction of the book by Valerie Grove (she wrote a biography of her, Dear Dodie, The Life of Dodie Smith), we are told that Dodie Smith started writing the book in February 1945 and finished it shortly after the war was over (in another review I read she started it in 1940). Revisions of the book took another two years. “She was still uncertain about the way the story should end — it hadn’t ended at all in the way she had expected.” I didn’t mind the ending. But one thing that did not satisfy me was

Here are a couple of parts out of the many parts of the book I thought hilarious:
• We both prayed hard, Rose the much longest — she was still on her knees when I had settled down ready to sleep. “That’ll do, Rose,” I said at last. “It’s enough just to mention things, you know. Long prayers are like nagging.”
• Cassandra is about ready to ask her father who has been behaving strangely for the longest time....“Father, are you going queer in the head?” But it struck me that if a man is going queer in the head, he is the last person to mention it to.

I noted in a recent book that I recently read, “Guard Your Daughters” by Diana Tutton, that some reviewers likened it to this book. That is what got me searching for this book and reading it.

• by Evie Wyld... https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...
• interesting stuff about Dodie Smith... https://newrepublic.com/article/10592...
Profile Image for Umut.
355 reviews164 followers
March 3, 2019
Very charming book that I’m very glad I read at last. It’s written in diary format by Cassandra, our main character. I loved the atmosphere, the setting. The descriptions of the castle is just so perfect and enchanting.
I loved the characters. The book nust takes you with it and I felt I was completely immersed in that world rather than mine.
My only criticism for the book is its size. I think it was a bit too long, but I loved it anyway :)
Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews593 followers
August 10, 2022


I Capture the Castle really delivers. Events happen over the course of a whirlwind six months, and the story has surprising sweep for such a short time frame. Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain details everything that happens to her poverty-stricken family, ironically housed in a castle--ramshackle, dark, and barely furnished. I Capture the Castle is an age-old story of first romantic love, sisterly love, and family drama, but that doesn’t set it apart; the atmospheric castle-setting does. That, combined with the universal themes, is what I believe has made it stand the test of time. When the action takes place in the castle, with the entertaining characters all together, the story shines brightest. When it separates the characters and moves away from the castle into nearby houses and London, the story dims a bit, though not enough to ruin it entirely.

It's painful to see all the good fortune happen to those around Cassandra and never to her, but she's a sweet and innocent glass-half-full type who’s admirably accepting of it. I only wished that Dodie Smith had written the second half at least a little more happily for Cassandra, and Still, I Capture the Castle is, overall, a feel-good, very charming read with vibrant characters I loved to pieces and will remember forever.
Profile Image for Punk.
1,509 reviews249 followers
June 22, 2007
Young Adult Fiction. Seventeen-year-old Cassandra begins a journal in an attempt to perfectly capture her family and the run-down castle they live in. This book wasn't at all what I expected. I'm reading it for the first time as an adult, and maybe I would have felt differently about it as a kid, but now I just found it sort of upsetting, and not in a cathartic way.

It's got a playful tone, yet is almost relentlessly dreary outside the narrative itself; possibly because Cassandra is too young to realize what a mess she's in. The writing is lovely and Cassandra has a wonderful voice, but I kept falling out of the story with worry. This family is so poor and hungry and cold, and it's in a time and place where it seems the only way the sisters are going to get out is through marriage. Their father is next to useless, and they've all come to depend on Stephen -- servant turned son, but remaining mostly servant -- to keep the castle up and provide their income.

Cassandra does grow up during the year-long course of the novel, and the end, while somewhat overwrought with soap opera machinations, gives me hope she and her family will get through this and start taking care of each other again, but I've got a lingering uneasiness about the family dynamics. Her father shoves her against a wall and doesn't even apologize, and neither he nor Cassandra seem aware he's done anything wrong. This is not a sweet little pastoral look at the English countryside like I expected -- the "we're poor, but it's fun!" approach -- instead, it hides a sort of secret viciousness beneath the jovial front.

Two stars. It deserves at least three, but it made me too edgy to really enjoy it.
85 reviews
September 19, 2011
The descriptions of the castle and the voice were great; I thought I had outgrown this sort of coming-of-age story centered around a wide-eyed, precocious young girl. For some reason I especially liked reading about their meals, both before and after the Cottons came along to provide them with better food. What is jellied soup, anyway? There was also a cutely Pollyannaesque tone to the cheerful way Cassandra would casually make note of all the things they lacked and had sold off, and her appreciation for the little that they did have. But halfway through the book I stopped being able to fully relate to Cassandra.

I get that love isn't rational, but sometimes I think what's true in real life doesn't always translate well to fiction. Stephen was really too wonderful and too deserving of love, and I was just unable to process Cassandra's indifference to him as a lack of chemistry rather than utter heartlessness. He was responsible and considerate, not only to Cassandra but to the entire family, even though by the end he was their hired boy only in name, and was the only one in the family earning any income. That anecdote about his reaction to the news of his mother's illness really did it. The scene with the wirelesses was especially painful, and it was interesting to note Cassandra's perception of kindness: she is deeply impressed by and grateful to the Cottons for what she calls their "kindness," and I definitely get that, given what a huge impact they've had on her family's lives and circumstances. At the same time, this really highlights how much she takes for granted, in terms of the kindness she receives from Stephen, Topaz, and Miss Marcy.

In the end it almost seemed as though Cassandra's feelings were largely decided by both class and circumstance--i.e., her feelings towards a person were determined by what it is within their means to provide. For example, Topaz can only cook and scrub and clean and comfort, and Miss Marcy can go out of her way to provide somewhat insubstantial help, while Mrs. Cotton can send gigantic hams and throw lavish parties and Simon, with his age and access to education, can talk about books and composers. When she tries to comfort Stephen, she even acknowledges that his wireless was a bigger present from him because he had to work and save for it, and I think that's pretty representative of their entire relationship with the Cottons--the Cottons are kind, generous people, but it also really doesn't cost them anything and they can afford such charity. I think the author did a good job of illustrating the selfishness and single-mindedness that can come out of young love or infatuation.

Again, this is all very realistic and makes sense, since it's human nature to take what you have for granted, to not appreciate family when you're starstruck or obsessed with something else, but because this was fiction, I wanted it all to wrap up neatly and for the main character to grow up. I don't mean the character shouldn't still be a work-in-progress at the end of book, but in terms of character growth, Cassandra's story and and Miss Marcy's story of being shaken out of her self-interest by grief and tragedy and then coming out of that by taking an interest in children are at different ends of the spectrum.

I feel like the book offers the first part of a coming-of-age story, without actually following the character through to any major development. Since the latter portion of the book has much more to do with Cassandra's emotions and her fixation on Simon than on the unique experience of living in poverty in a castle with an eccentric family, this also made me lose some of my original interest in the book.
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 51 books11.7k followers
December 2, 2020
Another of my “books about large homes, metaphorical or literal” (see also The Blue Palace) comfort reads.

What can I say about this book, other than it’s delightful and wonderful and perfect, and needs to be read if it not a thing you have already read (and, frankly, if it is a thing you have already read, needs to be read again, and read often).

It’s a melancholy, whimsical book about love and pain and growing up. Arch without ever seem insincere.

The heroine—and narrator—lives in a crumbling castle they cannot afford the rent on with her damaged but loving family: her tortured writer of a father who has had an epic case of writer’s block following his wildly successful first novel, her sensitive stepmother who used to be an artist’s model and now communes naked with nature in the rain, her pragmatic but beautiful elder sister who is determined to marry her way out of genteel poverty, her precocious younger brother, and their last remaining servant, who is terribly beautiful, has a crush on the heroine, but is—she feels—just a little daft.

I mean, it’s all very upper class white people problems. Oh no, we can’t afford our castle. Oh no, Rose is behaving in a socially awkward manner to an American. Oh no, we’re all in love with the wrong person.

But, I don’t know, it still sings to me. I can’t imagine it ever not. There’s a wistful to it—despite how funny it is—that makes me ache in the softness ways. For fresh love and the uncertainty of youth: for stages of life not only long past but perhaps never known at all.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,175 followers
July 14, 2015
The quirky journal of a 17 year old girl from an unconventional, impoverished Bohemian family in 1930s, charting the turmoil of love and relationships. An amusing and plausible mix of naivety and shrewd insights, enhanced by not going for the obviously tidy ending.
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,255 reviews2,297 followers
December 5, 2018
"Ah, but you are the insidious type-Jane Eyre with a touch of Becky Sharp. A thoroughly dangerous girl..."

So says the vicar about Cassandra Mortmain, the semi-precocious narrator of this novel - and one has to accept that he has put his finger on the nub. Rem acu tetigisti, as Jeeves would say.

Cassandra is the younger daughter of the once-famous novelist James Mortmain, and as the novel opens, we find her sitting on the draining board of the kitchen sink with her feet actually in the sink, writing her journal (which this novel is, BTW) in a cryptic speed-writing shorthand of her own invention. She is sitting there because it is the only reasonably warm room in their house, which was built in the time of Charles II and “grafted on to a fourteenth century castle that was damaged by Cromwell”. The Mortmains have been living there in genteel poverty for five years as the novel opens. They have sold all their jewellery and furniture, the women have no proper wardrobe, and even day-to-day food procurement has become something of an adventure.

They are a motley crew. James Mortmain, the head of the household, was once a celebrated novelist for the single avante garde novel Jacob Wrestling he had written: but a bout of bad temper had caused him to brandish a knife at his wife and knock out a neighbour who tried to intervene, earning him three months in jail. Once he came out, he has not written a single thing but spends his time reading old detective stories: hence their poverty.

Rose, his elder daughter, is lovely and self-centred, and is willing to sell herself to get out of her poverty; the younger daughter Cassandra is pretty, witty and intelligent and aspires to be a novelist. Their youngest sibling Thomas is fifteen and precocious like Cassandra. Their stepmother (the girls’ mother had died eight years before the story opens), who is only twety-nine and goes by the unusual name Topaz is a former artists’ model who worships the ground James treads on and sometimes communes with nature by dancing on the moors stark naked. Stephen Colly, the Mortmains’ maid’s son who has continued to stay with them even after her mother’s passing, makes himself useful about the house and is hopelessly in love with Cassandra.

It is into this hopeless, bohemian world that Simon and Neil Cotton arrive. They are the inheritors of Scoatney Hall, whose owner had given Mr. Mortmain Godsend Castle on a forty-year lease. Simon Cotton, a well-read intellectual, is fascinated by England and also by James Mottmain, who is still famous in America; later on, also by Rose. Neil is American through-and–through and can’t wait to get out of England. When Simon falls for Rose and gets engaged to her, he is very angry as he considers her a gold-digger. To complicate matters, Cassandra also falls for Simon. And there is James, getting more eccentric every day, and practically running after Mrs. Cotton, Simon and Neil’s mother, to the chagrin of Topaz. Aubrey Fox-Cotton, a distant cousin of the Cottons and a famous architect, who can’t get enough of Topaz and Leda, his photographer wife who lusts after Stephen, complete the cast of characters and add spice to the plot.

Here we have a potential recipe for a comedy of manners, a farce, a TV soap opera or even a Wodehouse-ian extravaganza. The narrative could have easily slid into any one of these genres and we would have had a mediocre novel. The fact that it does not happen is due to the consummate mastery of Dodie Smith over her medium, in keeping the voice of the teenage narrator so consistent and endearing throughout.

For Cassandra Mortmain is truly a masterly creation. I would place her on the same pedestal on which I have put Elizabeth Bennet, Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara (I have not read Jane Eyre, but from what I have heard, that redoubtable lady is of the same calibre). But Cassandra is not as accomplished, determined or wicked (as in the case of Ms. Sharp and Ms. O’Hara) as these legendary heroines – she is very much a teenage girl, suffering all the confusions and tantrums of that difficult period of life. No, what makes Cassandra special is her candour.

At one point in the novel, unaware that she is listening in, Simon wonders whether Cassandra is being “consciously naive” i.e. putting it on as a show to attract people. She is incensed, and rightly so; because if there is one thing to be said for the girl, it is her perfect honesty about everything including herself! For example, you have respect a person who can say that a piece by Bach made her feel that she was being repeatedly hit on the head by a teaspoon!

There are plenty of scenes worthy of Wodehouse – Topaz dancing at the foot of the castle tower at night in the buff and being taken for a ghost; Rose being chased across the country in a bearskin coat because people think that she is an escaped circus bear – but the hilarity does not slide into outright belly-laughter as with his novels. As a counterpoint, there are plenty of mellow scenes too, where the novelist relies heavily on metaphor (Rose wishing on a gargoyle and Cassandra and Simon doing the Midsummer Eve rites at the foot of the Belmonte Tower, to quote two examples). Here, we have to go beyond the written word to the story on the unwritten pages.

James Mortmain’s literary career is, however, the key to the novel, I feel. The reference to Jacob’s Ladder in his original novel immediately points to man’s connection with the infinite: as the Vicar tells Cassandra, God need not be God in the conventional sense, a bearded old man sitting up there in the clouds. God can be felt, smelt, seen, heard, tasted or simply experienced. As the novel moves to its conclusion, James has rediscovered his connection to the Godhead in him, which is literature – and Cassandra has also grown up. In discovering the key to her heart, she has learnt to put her feelings in perspective.

The first part of the novel is written in a sixpenny notebook with a pencil stub. It progresses to a shilling notebook and finally to a two-guinea one, written with a pen. We started with a precocious teenager in March, at the beginning of spring: we leave the story with her standing on the threshold of womanhood as the autumn leaves start falling.

Good luck, Cassandra!
Profile Image for Nidhi Singh.
40 reviews164 followers
February 18, 2015
I don’t really want to write anymore, I just want to lie here and think. But there is something I want to capture. It has to do with the feeling I had when I watched the Cottons coming down the lane, the queer separate feeling. I like seeing people when they can’t see me. I have often looked at our family through lighted windows and they seem quite different, a bit the way rooms seen in looking glasses do. I can’t get the feelings into words-it slipped away when I tried to capture it

As she sits in her kitchen sink writing her journal, she reminds me of myself when I was 17. I feel a wistful remembrance of my adolescent hopes, my days of wonderment. And I think of all those things I often used to think about. All those things I thought would happen; all that did not happen, all that did, and all that I never thought about. And then there is her voice, so innocent, thoughtful, and beautiful that leaves me heartbroken, bringing back to me memories like water colour paintings, of dreams that dissolved into the forgetful waters and of a future that seemed like a vision of a faraway castle shrouded by the autumn mist. Life can never be the same when you know that the mist has cleared with the passage of time. The fruits of wonderment have paid off with the seeds of maturity. And adulthood has put aside the fantasies of childhood because you have known too much, lived too much. But could I really have known Cassandra if I had never been cold and hungry like her in that cruel English winter, had never known that sometimes living in a castle alone cannot warrant a fairy tale? But perhaps if I had met her that day when she staggered out of the inn rain-drenched, with her hair dirty and her expression maudlin, I would have told her that I never thought of her as ‘consciously naïve’, that I too had my long days by the window waiting for something to happen, that I had somehow found a lost part of myself through her. When she had wished to live in a Jane Austen novel, how I had often wished the same. And how hopeful I was for her when she took that train to London looking so conspicuous in her white suit, how gorgeous I thought her midsummer’s eve’s rites to be, how blissful indeed writing in the moonlight must have been. How I too had often wondered about an unknown land and an unknown past. How much I had known her puzzlement, her sadness, her hopes and hopelessness. How I had loved every bit of what she ‘captured’ so intently in all the pages of her soon to be finished notebook. And how I really wished I had met her a long time back.
Profile Image for Eh?Eh!.
373 reviews4 followers
December 28, 2009
Vacation reading continues.

The story is so charming! I especially like how the main character, Cassandra, appreciated food because of her poverty. Favorites:

-I shouldn't think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.

-But I did like the restaurant; most of the people eating there were unusually ugly, but the food was splendid. We had.... We were gloriously bloat.

-...ham with mustard is a meal of glory.

There was a formal dinner party where Cassandra observed the oddness of gathering to eat, the servants central to the experience but not involved with conversations, the food going in and words coming out. I agree that food doesn't mix well with stiff formality. I do love how people come together over food though - meeting friends usually centers around food, my favorite gifts have been food, and nearly every party I've ever been to has ended up cramming into the kitchen at some point no matter where the host/hostness intended to contain the crowd. I've heard some people complain about kitchen-centric parties...pssh. Conversation still flows and everyone's closer to the food&drink.

The charm of the story wasn't all about food. I think it was also because of the innocence of the narrator and the society described. Innocence in that it was possible to be at once delicate and matter-of-fact about adultery, jealousy, a cougar, kissing without love, confusion about love, a dress pulled down off a shoulder, but all without the salaciousness w/official veneer of prudery that is our reality now. It has the most delicately worded description of sex I'd ever read: I am not so sure I should like the facts of life, but I have got over the bitter disappointment I felt when I first heard about them, and one obviously has to try them sooner or later. Not to say innocence made things better but I wonder what it would be like to live without an implied wink or leer in certain statements. I'm misrepresenting some of these things since the book is presented as the journal entries of Cassandra.

The story's charm is also in the little realizations about life and self the character has as she observes and experiences. They are the realizations of a young girl who is still very idealistic about life, unaware of some probable harsh future adjustments. This coming-of-age girl story probably wouldn't be as charming for most guys to read.
Profile Image for Beverly.
833 reviews313 followers
October 31, 2017
What's not to love--castle and wild girls on an island?
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