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"And I regret to say that there were moments when my deep and loving pity for her merged into a desire to kick her fairly hard.”
—Cassandra Mortmain, "I Capture the Castle"
"This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met."
Set in the 1930s in England, I Capture the Castle (1948) is Dodie Smith’s best-loved (though little-known) book, with the power to leave even 25-year-old guys with a mild case of the warm fuzzies.
Be that as it may, it’s the furthest thing from sentimental. What it is, is funny, observant, quick-witted, and touching. I Capture the Castle is the journal of Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a rented castle in the depths of Suffolk with her impoverished and decidedly unconventional family: her reclusive father, who was once a very famous and groundbreaking author until he was sent to prison for three months for threatening his wife with a cake knife; her eccentric and glamorous stepmother, Topaz, who was once a nude model and still believes in “communing with nature”; her flawed but beautiful elder sister, Rose, who is desperately sick of being poor; her younger brother, Thomas, who is smart and doesn’t appear much in the book until the second half, and the hired hand, Stephen Colly, who is extremely handsome and desperately in love with Cassandra.
And that’s only the premise.
The plot begins when the young American heirs to the castle and its property, Simon and Neil Cotton, plus various sophisticated relations, come to England to look it over. In doing so, they run smack-bang into Cassandra having a bath. After the initial awkwardness is over, they get along swimmingly. Before long, Simon and Rose become engaged. Then Cassandra falls in love with Simon, which messes things up for her a bit. But even though she’s lovesick, she still manages to hatch a plot with her brother to get their father writing again—possibly one of the funniest scenes in the whole book.
Even when she’s in the midst of lovesickness, family rows and a couple of embarrassing mishaps, Cassandra still manages to be level-headed and adventurous. She is sometimes naïve, sometimes astonishingly wise, but always intelligent, funny, optimistic, and unexpectedly honest.
I Capture the Castle is often billed as a romance, but it ain’t just another love story. For one thing, the ending isn’t a typical love-story ending. For another thing, it’s about so much more than that: society, sisterhood, family, growing up, being honest to yourself, and even a little bit about God.
Also made into a movie by The BBC in 2003 starring Romola Garai as Cassandra, Rose Byrne as Rose and Henry Cavill as Stephen.
- Abuse Mistake: Cassandra's father wasn't really threatening his wife with the cake knife.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Stephen loves Cassandra, who loves Simon, who loves Rose. Who loves Neil.
- Beard of Evil: Cassandra thinks Simon's goatee makes him look like a gargoyle.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Played with when Cassandra nearly believes Neil's lie about killing the bear--which didn't even exist:
Neil: I held the lantern high; I could see the bubbles coming up. And then I saw the dark bulk of it under the water, being carried along by the current.
- Childhood Friend Romance: The unrequited variety; Stephen is in love with Cassandra.
- Creator Breakdown: James Mortmain
- Distracted by the Luxury: Rose and her peach-coloured towels.
- Fan Service: In the BBC movie, Topaz gets naked, although we only see her from the waist up. This could also rank as Fan Disservice as there are far more female fans than male fans.
- First Kiss: Cassandra has hers with Simon. Rose has hers with Neil.
- Giftedly Bad: Topaz should stick to modelling. Her painting of the Tower apparently looks like an upturned pudding basin and a rolling pin.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: subverted as beautiful Rose and smart Cassandra are very fond of each other.
- Gold Digger: Rose
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Cassandra. And Simon. And Stephen!
- Kid Sidekick: Thomas
- Likes Older Women: Stephen. And Leda Fox-Cotton definitely does not qualify for Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!, in the book or the movie.
- Love Epiphany: Cassandra for Simon
- Love Makes You Dumb: Cassandra, for a while.
- Missing Mom: in the book, Cassandra cannot even remember her face until she suddenly pictures her giving her a piece of advice.
- Nice Guy: Stephen
- Nipple-and-Dimed: Topaz's topless shots got an 'R' rating from the MPAA. In Australia the film is rated 'PG 15'.
- Nude Nature Dance: Cassandra's artsy stepmother, Topaz, loves doing this kind of thing to "commune" with nature.
- Post-Kiss Catatonia: Cassandra
- Pretty in Mink: Rose gets mistaken for a bear while wearing a fur coat.
- Reclusive Artist: James Mortmain
- Shallow Love Interest: Rose when she's with Simon.
- Sibling Triangle: Cassandra, Rose and Simon.
- Another is Rose, Simon and Neil.
- Starving Artist: Cassandra's father, James Mortmain.
- Sympathetic POV: Cassandra doesn't find out till way later that Rose and Neil kissed.
- The Ingenue: Cassandra gradually grows out of this.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Stephen
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Cassandra tries to convince herself that a sunrise symbolises her future with Simon.
- Wrong Side of the Tracks: They may not have started out this way, but the Mortmains have ended up here.