Welcome back to my bookshelf! First, let me say that I may not be wholly consistent with update dates as I’ve started classes in earnest again. But I will definitely try to keep doing at least three updates a week. Just maybe not on Thursday-Friday-Sunday always.
Today we’re talking about I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
My mother got this book for me so long ago that I really don’t remember when I first read it. I suspect I was around twelve or thirteen. It’s a coming-of-age novel, and one of the best young adult books ever written. In fact, until I looked it up this morning to double check I was spelling the author’s name right (because there is no way I was climbing to the top shelf just to see the author’s name), I hadn’t realized just how old it was. It was published in 1948.
The story is told from the point of view of Cassandra, a girl who is telling everything in her life to her journal. She’s young, a touch naive, but on the whole very astute and perceptive. She’s the daughter of a writer who hasn’t actually written anything worth reading in a long time, the sister of a girl who wants to live in a Jane Austen novel, and an aspiring writer herself.
I would just like to take a moment to say that Dodie Smith was not only well-read, but has very good taste. Almost everything she mentions in this book, in a literary sense, is excellent. Not a huge fan of As You Like It, but any author who can pull Tolstoy, Poe, and Vanity Fair references into one novel has already stolen my heart.
There are love…well, squares. In a lot of ways it is like an Austen novel, as a major concern of both sisters is boys. Without giving too much away, there’s brothers next door to the sisters, and a boy who is a kind of servant to the sisters. The servant thinks he’s in love with Cassandra; she finds this uncomfortable. The sister thinks one brother is attractive and the other is (as the heir) the one she’ll marry because he’s rich.
Naturally love takes over and the siblings fall in love with the wrong people after engagements have been made. Someone elopes. Things more or less set themselves right in the end except….
She turns away the proposal. I won’t say who. I don’t give those kinds of details away. But one of my favorite things about this book as that the girl decides that the man proposing hasn’t had enough time to get over her sister. He promises to come back, she writes that she still loves him, and the journal ends.
Do they get happily ever after?
Of course not, this isn’t a fairy tale.
Does he come back and propose and she says yes?
Does it really matter? This is what Dodie Smith tells us. Maybe her life turns out quite differently, and that’s okay too. But the story, beautifully, reminds us of the young love factor, the rush of coming of age, and all the confusion and heartbreak that comes from things not turning out as you’d expect.
And then beautifully, just when Cassandra’s fate looks like it’s going to wrap up in a neat little Jane Austen package, she turns away the proposal and tells the man she loves that he needs more time before he asks her to marry him.
And considering this story still rates as one of the best young adult books ever written, I’d say Dodie Smith got something very, very right when she made that choice.