Sparrow's Reviews > I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
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Apr 01, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: young-adult, favorites, girls-rule, reviewed, classic-young-adult, motherless-daughters, beards-are-mesmerizing, best-of-the-year
Read in May, 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.
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Comments (showing 1-30)

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message 30: by Nan (new)

Nan I enjoy the way you write and you made me laugh. Thanks!

Sparrow Thank you! That's very kind.

Sparrow I agree, Chandra! If everyone got what they wanted in the book it would be too precious, even though I was rooting for them the whole time (especially Stephen). I particularly love when Cassandra has her crisis and talks to the teacher and the preacher and realizes the different ways that they use their professions to protect them from living life.

Beards are really mesmerizing in an awesome way. E-five on your husband's beard.

message 27: by Jen (new) - added it

Jen Meredith, I have hesitated writing a review for this one (because I didn't want to turn anyone off such a great book), but you did so well I think I may give it a try sometime this week.

If you liked I Capture the Castle you might want to try A Drama in Muslin- it was a much more realistic Austen, and I liked the heroine much, much better- she was plain, atheist, and unhappy that her sole duty was to adorn her plumage to snag a man.

Sparrow Thanks, Jen! Definitely do a review! I added A Drama in Muslin to my list. Thanks for the rec. I wonder why I had never heard of this book until this year. I don't understand what makes Anne or Little Women or P & P more popular (or at least more known to me). Is it the parents shown as humans? Maybe only boys have unreliable parents. But, then P & P, has the crazy parents. Mystery.

message 25: by Jen (last edited Dec 13, 2009 12:29PM) (new) - added it

Jen I will try this week- holidays are crazy times.

Go into any bookstore and there'll be cheap cheap "classics" everywhere...a seemingly vicious cycle of reprintings, making it so easy to grab what is there and neglect searching for better lesser-known choices. And the average person going into a bookstore doesn't have GRder recommendations. Karen has been invaluable in this regard.

But that is just my idea.

message 24: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell People have been telling me to read this for forever! (I did read part of it, after seeing the movie....) Now I'll really have to check it out, if only for the sake of the beard. ;-)

Sparrow Read! Review! Everyone! Jen - Have you seen that, like, ten people have read A Drama in Muslin on GR? Weird!

message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Mmmm, beards. When I married my husband, I had never actually seen his chin. He shaved off his beard once and I totally freaked out - he has a butt chin! Or, you know, I think it's called a dimple chin if you're trying for marital harmony, which I wasn't, because I was so damn freaked out.

This is definitely going on the to-read.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I knew two guys in college with large bushy beards who were basically pretty meek and even if they attempted to wield some authority would never really be taken seriously. The idea of people capitulating to them in any manner is just, well, laughable. You'd laugh too if you knew them.

I'm sure they're anomalies though. I went to a pretty, um, off-beat kind of school.

message 20: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 13, 2009 06:36PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Make that three bearded anomalies. Though the third wasn't so meek or amiable like the other two (who were good friends) and was gargantuan. He resembled a bushy bearded Penguin (Batman's nemesis), as he waddled due to his sheer girth and had a habit of carrying an umbrella around at all times, including the sunniest of days. The umbrella seemed to act mostly as a cane to assist with the waddling. Anyway, he was also easy to not take orders from, despite his massive size and booming voice (and foot-long beard), which, if anything, would've helped in the taking-orders-from-him department.

Sparrow I have a friend whose name is Gene, but we started calling him Genesus because of his lionesque appearance. Every once in a while, he'll trim up a little bit, and it always seems kind of indecent. Like, put your shirt back on, buddy. Maybe he has a butt chin, too.

I don't necessarily buy into the beard=power thing, but maybe you would have taken those guys even less seriously without the beards, MFSO.

Anyway, Pei Mai thinks eyebrows don't hurt either:


Eh?Eh! Ceridwen wrote: "Mmmm, beards. When I married my husband, I had never actually seen his chin. He shaved off his beard once and I totally freaked out - he has a butt chin! Or, you know, I think it's called a dimple ..."

Hahaaa! Butt-chin.

I knew someone who tried for a beard to appear mature, but was thwarted when the beard grew in scraggly. Not everyone can push out a mighty chin bush.

Also, lovely review. I Capture the Castle & A Drama in Muslin, TBR.

message 17: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 13, 2009 06:48PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Meredith wrote: "I don't necessarily buy into the beard=power thing, but maybe you would have taken those guys even less seriously without the beards, MFSO."

Ha! Excellent point. I did know one of them as beardless for a long time and I think I may have taken him less seriously when he grew one, because it looked so crazy and ridiculous on him. The other guy almost always had a beard but one time he shaved it off and I think I may very well have taken him less seriously then.

Sparrow Change is silly.

Tatiana Full beards are lovely (trimmed, not chest length) but mustaches with no beards are horrible. Yuck! I pictured Simon with a Van Dyke type beard.

I'm definitely adding A Drama in Muslin to my TBR list.

Sparrow Tatiana - did you see the movie first? I really like the movie, but I think they got that wrong. I pictured something more like this: . If it was the Van Dyke soul patch, then maybe he really was evil . . . hmm.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

And beards without mustaches = weird.

Sparrow agreed to both C & C.

message 11: by Skylar (last edited Mar 07, 2010 04:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Skylar Burris "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."

I think if I had read it in high school, I would not have BELIEVED it's honesty, and therefore I would not have respected the book so much.

Sparrow That is so true. I gave it to one of my friends who is 16, and her reaction was that it was "dishonest." I wonder what makes it like that.

Skylar Burris Maybe beacuse, as they say, these days, "30 is the new 20." You have to really come of age before you can "get" a coming of age story, and these days, a lot of people don't really come of age, in the full meaning of the concept, until their 20's or even 30's, and not so much in their teens.

Sparrow I also wonder if both my friend and I are identifying what we want to be honesty or dishonesty, rather than using some kind of empirical evaluation. For example, I think she would probably say that The Notebook is an honest movie (or at least not criticize it for dishonesty), where I would disagree. But, then, I don't want that to be honest, and I do want all of Cassandra's lessons and wisdom to be honest.

Skylar Burris That seems a possibility. Although I *don't* really want all of Cassandra's lessons to be honest and I still see them as honest.

Sparrow That makes sense, too. Probably we're just right. I mean, we are older, so that means we have to be right, yeah? ;)

Skylar Burris Exactly.

Cecily "I have said that I am a sucker for a good fish story."
Well, that's a sentence I don't read every day!

What an interestingly tangential review.

Sparrow haha, thank you! I am! I think I made a shelf for it, but maybe I forgot and got distracted by my beard shelf.

message 2: by Ashley (new)

Ashley I came in on this review several years too late, but I just want to say I ate up the beard stories!

Beads have kind of always mesmerized me. When I was younger I thought it was because there's the possibility of a handsome revelation. I'd say, "oh, I bet he'd be handsome...".

While I still always wonder how a beaded man would look clean-shaven, I now believe beards are fascinating because they cause you to focus on the eyes. How interesting that we can chalk someone up as being attractive, with having only eyes and a nose to go on!

Sparrow Haha. I think there's also a hard-working association for me? Like "he must work out in the cold, so he needs a face sweater."

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