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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

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Title: I Capture the Castle.
Author: Dodie Smith.
Genre: Fiction, literature, bildungsroman, epistolary fiction, diary, romance, writing, teen.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1948.
Summary: The novel relates the adventures of an eccentric family, the Mortmains, struggling to live in genteel poverty in a decaying castle during the 1930s, from the point of view of 17-year-old Cassandra. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills and give character to her quirky father, her otherworldly step-mother, her dorky younger brother, and her older sister Rose, desperate to get our of poverty any way possible. Cassandra fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. They talk about Stephen, the young man who lives with her family that is in love with her, the American brothers that own their castle, Simon and Neil, who come into their lives and capture the sisters' hearts, and of her father's struggling to write something after going a best-seller and a decades-long writer's block. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle."

My rating: 8.5/10.
My review: I don't believe anyone who has ever been, or is still, a young woman, can get through this book without falling completely and utterly in love with Cassandra. And it's Smith's charming writing that ensures that. It's as if Cassandra understands every thought, insecurity, wonder, and ethical dilemma every girl on the verge of womanhood had ever had


♥ I begin to see that writers are liable to become callous.

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

♥ I am surprised to see how much I have written; with stories even a page can take me hours, but the truth seems to flow out as fast as I can get it down. But words are very inadequate - anyway, my words are. Could any one reading them picture our kitchen by firelight, or Belmotte Tower rising towards the moon-silvered clouds, or Stephen managing to look both noble and humble? (It was most unfair of me to say he looks a faction daft.) 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. It make reading so much more exciting, but I don't suppose many people try to do it.

♥ Rose doesn't like the flat country but I always did - flat country seems to give the sky such a chance.

♥ I shall go down and be very kind to everyone. Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.

♥ 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.

♥ It was extraordinary, I had the most affectionate feelings for all those furs - no horror of them at all, as I had of Aunt Millicent's clothes, though I knew they must all have been worn by dead people. I thought about it a lot, getting warmer and warmer in the beaver, and I decided that it was like the difference between the beautiful old Godsend graves and the new ones open to receive coffins (which I never can bear to look at); that time takes the ugliness and horror out of death and turns it into beauty.

♥ I have been resting, just staring down at the castle. I wish I could find words - serious, beautiful words - to describe it in the afternoon sunlight; the more I strive for them, the more they utterly elude me. How can one capture the pool of light in the courtyard, the golden windows, the strange long-ago look, the look that one sees in old paintings? I can only think of "the light of other days," and I didn't make that up...

♥ "Don't talk like that," I said quickly. "Gentlemen are men who behave like gentlemen. And you certainly do."

He shook his head. "You can only be a gentleman if you're born one, Miss Cassandra."

"Stephen, that's old-fashioned nonsense," I said.

♥ I had a queer sort of feeling, watching them all and listening; perhaps it was due to what father had been saying a few minutes before. It suddenly seemed astonishing that people should meet especially to eat together - because food goes into the mouth and talk comes out. And if you watch people eating and talking - really watch them - it is a very peculiar sight: hands so busy, forks going up and down, swallowings, words coming out between mouthfuls, jaws working like mad. The more you look at a dinner party the odder it seems - all the candlelit faces, hands with dishes coming over shoulders, the owners of the hands moving round quietly taking no part in the laughter and conversation.

♥ It was pleasant being by myself in the house - one gets the feel of a house much better alone.

♥ He sounded faintly sad. Perhaps he finds beauty saddening - I do myself sometimes. Once when I was quite little I asked father why this was and he explained that it was due to our knowledge of beauty's evanescence, which reminds us that we ourselves shall die. Then he said I was probably too young to understand him; but I understood perfectly.

♥ And I quite understood; when things mean a very great deal to you, exciting anticipation just isn't safe.

♥ Deserts do not seem to be deserted in America.

♥ It's going to be "happy ever after," just like the fairy tales—

And I still wouldn't like it. Oh, I'd love the clothes and the wedding. 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. What I'd really hate would be the settled feeling, with nothing but happiness to look forward to. Of course no life is perfectly happy - Rose's children will probably get ill, the servants may be difficult, perhaps dear Mrs. Cotton will prove to be the teeniest fly in the ointment. (I should like to know what fly was originally in what ointment.) There are hundreds of worries and even sorrows that may come along, but—I think what I really mean is that Rose won't be wanting things to happen. She will want things to stay just as they are. She will never have the fun of hoping something wonderful and exciting may be just round the corner.

♥ I suddenly know what has been the matter with me all week. Heavens, I'm not envying Rose, I'm missing her! Not missing her because she is away now - though I have been a little bit lonely - but missing the Rose who has gone away for ever. There used to be two of us always on the look-out for life, talking to Miss Blossom at night, wondering, hoping; two Brontë-Jane Austen girls, poor but spirited, two Girls of Godsend Castle. Now there is only one, and nothing will ever be quite such fun again.

♥ Once I got used to the idea of being by myself for so long I positively liked it. I always enjoy the different feeling there is in a house when one is alone in it, and the thought of that feeling stretching ahead for two whole days somehow intensified it wonderfully. The castle seemed to be mine in a way it never had been before; the day seemed specially to belong to me; I even had a feeling that I owned myself more than I usually do. I became very conscious of all my movements - if I raised my arm I looked at it wonderingly, thinking, "That is mine!" And I took pleasure in moving, both in the physical effort and in the touch of the air - it was most queer how the air did seem to touch me, even when it was absolutely still. All day long I had a sense of great ease and spaciousness. And my happiness had a strange, remembered quality as though I had lived it before. Oh, how can I recapture it - that utterly right, homecoming sense of recognition? It seems to me now that the whole day was like an avenue leading to a home I had loved once but forgotten, the memory of which was coming back so dimly, so gradually, as I wandered along, that only when my home at last lay before me did I cry: "Now I know why I have been happy!"

♥ What a difference there is between wearing even the skimpiest bathing-suit and wearing nothing! After a few minutes I seemed to live in every inch of my body as fully as I usually do in my head and my hands and my heart. I had the fascinating feeling that I could think as easily with my limbs as with my brain - and suddenly the whole of me thought that Topaz's nonsense about communing with nature isn't nonsense at all. The warmth of the sun felt like enormous hands pressing gently on me, the flutter of the air was like delicate fingers. My kind of nature-worship was always had to do with magic and folklore, though sometimes it turned a bit holy. This was nothing like that. I expect it was what Topaz means by "pagan."

♥ And then he bent his head and kissed me.

I have tried and tried to remember what I felt. Surely I must have felt surprised, but no sense of it comes back to me. All I can recall is happiness, happiness in my mind and in my heart and flowing through my whole body, happiness like the warm cloak of sunlight that fell round me on the tower. It was a darkness, too - and the darkness comes again when I try to recapture the moment... and then I find myself coldly separate - not only from Simon, but from myself as I was then. The figures I see in the candlelit pavilion are strangers to me.

♥ It made no difference. Just to be in love seemed the most blissful luxury I had ever known. The thought came to me that perhaps it is the loving that counts, not the being loved in return - that perhaps true loving can never know anything but happiness. For a moment I felt that I had discovered a great truth.

And then I happened to catch sight of Miss Blossom's silhouette and heard her say: "Well, you just hang on to that comforting bit of high-thinking, duckie, because you're going to need it."

♥ "Truthfulness so often goes with ruthlessness."

♥ And I saw that though what I felt in the church was only imagination, it was a step on the way; because imagination itself can be a kind of willingness - a pretence that things are real, due to one's longing for then. It truck me that this was somehow tied up with what the Vicar said about religion being an extension of art - and then I had a glimpse of how religion really can cure you of sorrow; somehow make use of it, turn it to beauty, just as art can make sad things beautiful.

♥ Of course, what my mind's eye was trying to tell me was that the Vicar and Miss Marcy had managed to by-pass the suffering that comes to most people - he by his religion, she by her kindness to others. And it came to me that if one does that, one is liable to miss too much along with the suffering - perhaps, in a way, life itself. Is what why Miss Marcy seems so young for her age - and why the Vicar, in spite of all his cleverness, has that look of an elderly baby?

I said aloud: "I don't want to miss anything." And then misery came rushing back like a river that has been dammed up. I tried to open my heart to it, to welcome it as a part of my life's experience, and at first that made it easier to bear. Then it got worse than ever before - it was physical as well as mental, my heart and ribs and shoulders and chest, even my arms, ached. I longed so desperately for someone to comfort me that I went and laid my head on Miss Blossom's bust - I thought of it as soft and motherly, under a royal-blue satin blouse, and imagines her saying: "That's right - go through it, not round it, duckie. It's the best way for most of us in the end."

And then a different voice spoke in my head, a bitter, sarcastic voice - my own at its very nastiest. It said: "You've sunk pretty low, my girl, clasping a dressmaker's dummy. And aren't you a bit old for this Miss Blossom nonsense?" Then, for the first time in my life, I began to wonder how I "did" Miss Blossom. Was she like Stephen's mother, but not so humble - or nearer to a charwoman of Aunt Millicent's? Or had I taken her from some character in a book? Suddenly I saw her more vividly than ever before, standing behind the bar of an old-fashioned London pub. She looked at me most reproachfully, then put a sealskin jacket over her blue blouse, turned off all the lights, and went out into the night closing the door behind her. The next second, her bust was as hard as a board and smelt of dust and old glue. And I knew she was gone for ever.

♥ And then, as I watched the sheep peacefully nibbling the grass, it came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to any London - that it has always been, in spirit, a stretch of the countryside; and that it thus links the Londons of all periods together most magically - by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of the ever-changing town.

♥ Watching sleeping people makes one feel more separate than ever from them.

♥ I think he only took one to keep me company, but he talked quite naturally while we ate - about the difficulty of finding words to describe the luminous mist, and why one has the desire to describe beauty.

"Perhaps it's an attempt to possess it," I said.

"Or be possessed by it; perhaps that's the same thing, really. I suppose it's the complete identification with beauty one's seeking."

♥ There were still a few scarves of mist floating in the water-meadows where we had watched the veiled sunrise. As we drove past I remembered how I had told myself I would make Simon happy. I didn't feel the same person. For I now knew that I had been stuffing myself up with a silly fairy tale, for I could never mean to him what Rose had meant. I think I knew it first as I watched his face while he listened to her singing, and then more and more as he talked about the whole wretched business - not angrily or bitterly, but quietly and without ever saying a word against Rose. But most of all I knew it because of a change in myself. Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can.

Long before we got back to the castle, with all my heart and for my own heart's ease as well as his, I would have given her back to him if I could.

♥ "I only want to write. And there's no college for that except life."

♥ And surely I could give him - a sort of contentment?

That isn't enough to give. Not for the giver.

♥ He said he would come back.

Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.
Tags: 1930s in fiction, 1940s - fiction, 20th century - fiction, bildungsroman, british - fiction, diary (fiction), epistolary fiction, fiction, literature, my favourite books, romance, teen, writing (fiction)
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