Come Capture the Castle

It all started with an innocent trip to my favorite local used book store last summer. I was looking for some seasonal reads - you know, books that matched the month or the weather - when the spine of a really beautiful book caught my eye. It definitely screamed summer with its beautifully muted florals and antique garden pattern. I slipped it off the shelf, immediately noticing that neither the author nor the title was familiar.

I was intrigued!

I read the quote on the cover by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling - 

"This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met."

- and I was hooked!

I knew I wanted to read I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith if for no other reason than she had made such a lasting impact on one of the most successful contemporary authors of our day.

About Dodie Smith

If you are like me, you've probably never heard of Dodie Smith, though she wrote one of the most readily recognized children's stories of all time, 101 Dalmatians, the inspiration for which was none other than her beloved Dalmatian, Pongo. But before she wove that unforgettable tale, before she even captured the castle, Dodie Smith was a playwright, and one that had already made a name for herself in her native England.

It wasn't until the 1940s that Dodie took up the pen to try her hand at writing a novel. She and her husband (Alec Beesley, with whom she had been longtime friends prior to their 1939 marriage) were living in California at the time, he being an English conscientious objector to World War II. It was during that time that Dodie's longing for her native England grew, eventually serving as the inspiration for her first foray into fiction, writing I CAPTURE THE CASTLE over the span of four of the fourteen years the couple lived abroad.

In her personal notes while writing I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, Dodie wrote...

"My inner ear – that faculty for hearing each and every word spoken in my head before I write it – suddenly went out of gear. Always I heard words battering at me, trying to form their own satisfactory sentences."

...which likely served as the motivation behind the fictional father's writer's block, as well as her main character's impetus to improve her own writing ability by capturing the castle (and its inhabitants) on the pages of her journals.


Remember that beautiful edition of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE that captured my attention at my local used bookstore? You might be surprised to find out that I didn't buy it. I didn't add it to my growing library for the simple fact that it had suffered water damage and the price simply didn't reflect that fact.

Instead, I went home and began relentlessly searching for my own copy of that pretty little paperback. After many frustrated attempts, I discovered that it was an edition no longer in print.

Deflated, I downloaded a digital copy and began reading, delighted from that famous first line - 

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."


By the time I had finished the first section, I knew I wanted to share this beautifully written coming-of-age story told through the eyes of this teenager living in genteel poverty in the English countryside in the 1930s. 

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE was written as the fictional diary of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain over the span of six very pivotal months in her family's history. The novel beautifully and subtly shows the impact we can have in the lives of those around us and portrays each of the women within its pages as a hero in one regard or another, a facet of the story that I was delighted to discover in hindsight - including Miss Blossom (the girls' dressmaker's dummy) who dispensed pearls of wisdom and perspective to the sisters, despite not having a mouth (or even a head!).

(See what other Monthly Book Club members thought about I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by watching a replay of Pretty Literate Live here.)

Through poverty and play, through struggles and sacrifice, through heartache and hilarity, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE manages to capture the heart of youth flawlessly. Through level-headed, adventurous, naïve, intelligent, funny, and honest Cassandra, the author manages to ensnare the heart of each of her readers along the way, as well.

Come Capture the Castle

If you've ever longed to live in a Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë novel...

If you've ever experienced a frustrating family relationship...

If you remember the youthful blushes of first love...

If you enjoy getting caught up in the antics of fictional characters...

If your siblings were (or are!) your best friends...

You will love I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith.

Check out Smith's 1948 classic in a unique way inside the I CAPTURE THE CASTLE BOOK BOX featuring a unique, hardbound, textured edition - a vast improvement from the water-soaked paperback that initially introduced me to Dodie and her writing last summer inside the used bookstore.


What do you think?

Have you read I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith? Would you recommend it? Share your thoughts on the author or this title in particular in the comments.

1 comment

  • I read ICTC through the PL Classics Community and I really enjoyed it. From the very first sentence, I became a huge fan of the honest, self-effacing and endearing Cassandra who tells her story with naïveté, bits of humor, growing insights and loving loyalty. Descriptions of a “first love” rang true to my own experience and it was a joy to relive that with her. The author’s descriptions of the English countryside made me long (again!) to see it myself. Between the first half of the book and the second half I found myself running a gamut of feeling; and that’s why I love to read. Two thumbs up from me!

    Lynda A.

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