“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
So, famously, begins Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.
I wish I could remember the first time I read this book, as I feel like I should now it has become one of my all-time favourites. I bought a copy around 10 years ago, but I’m sure that I had previously read it as a child as there was a definite familiarity to the story. Over the years, I have gone back to this book time and time again and my love for it has only grown.
I Capture the Castle is the story of 17 year old Cassandra, her somewhat eccentric family and the crumbling castle in which they live. Set in 1934, the story is told through Cassandra’s journals, as she sets out to capture the world around her. The family are poor – Cassandra’s father is an author with serious writer’s block, so their only income is from their lodger – and there are few prospects for Cassandra and her 21 year old sister Rose. That is, until two wealthy American brothers appear one stormy night…There is an element of Austen about the two girls (well, Rose) looking to marriage as the route to a better life. However, the story doesn’t necessarily follow the path you expect and it’s not the typical marriage-plot. This is more of a coming-of-age story about Cassandra, as she learns more about herself, experiencing love and heartache for the first time. But it’s not the soppy romance I might be implying! As a character, Cassandra is also very witty and there is a real warmth and humour to the story.
[Rose] suddenly flung back her head dramatically and said: “…It may interest you both to know that for some time now, I’ve been considering selling myself. If necessary, I shall go on the streets.”
I told her she couldn’t go on the streets in the depths of Suffolk.
One of the reasons that I re-read books is because I enjoy the comfort of the familiar. It means that I can read according to the mood I’m in, or the mood I want to invoke. With I Capture the Castle, that mood is nostalgia. There’s the sense of nostalgia for a time I never knew and a world not quite like mine; a nostalgia for the English countryside, and the beautiful surroundings of the castle; but mostly, I think the nostalgia is for the youthful moment of 17, the poise between childhood and becoming an adult. There is an innocence and naivety to Cassandra, and yet she is intelligent and understands the world around her and the place she has in it. There is a sense of romance, unrequited love and a yearning – yearning for a future that seems impossible. It’s easy to be caught up in this, and the fantasising of what could have been, or could still be.
A final quick note – there is a film adaptation from 2003, which I actually really enjoyed. I find book to screen adaptations really interesting to watch – although I almost always prefer the book, I’m curious to see how others interpret the characters and story I’m so familiar with.
I have to say that the first time I saw the film, I didn’t fall in love with it – but on re-watching the film more recently I definitely enjoyed it a lot more. There’s a brilliant cast – especially Romola Garai as Cassandra – and I think all the characters were captured in the way I envisaged them. The setting is also beautiful, so the film looks great and the mood definitely fit with the mood of the book for me – and the plot hasn’t been messed about with too much, which is normally the issue I have with adaptations. For me, it’s worth a watch (although it’ll never surpass the experience of reading the book)!
If you’ve read the book or seen the film, I’d love to hear your thoughts…