I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith


“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” – Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture The Castle

The quote of the title is from I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. For years I thought the book might be about a game of chess, or perhaps a battle. But now that I have actually read it, I understand what it is. For the last couple of weeks I have lived in that castle, walked its crumbling towers, been chilled in it draughts, and have even swum in its inky moat. Like Cassandra, whose journals I have been reading, I have recreated in my own head the castle that she has sought to capture through her writing.

From the very first line I was drawn in – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.  I have heard that before, or seen the reference. Eight words which sound quite absurd but which perfectly frame the story that follows, of Cassandra’s youth, energy and busy imagination, the solid stone of the castle’s walls and rooms and the eccentric family that live there, their rent unpaid and surviving from meal to meal. Cassandra is seventeen, not quite girl but not quite woman, and largely isolated from the world beyond the end of the lane. The unexpected arrival of two American brothers upsets the delicate harmony of castle life and marks the moment when she finally leaves girlhood behind and begins to explore the possibilities of adulthood, of love and of inevitable change.

The quote which I have used in the title rang a very loud bell for me.  I have never been a quick reader even though I read a lot. I place myself very much among the words and the world that is created with them, living the book along with it. There needs to be enough description for me to build a picture but if there is too much detail, I get bogged down and my own imagination feels stifled by strictures of the author’s direction. For me the best books are the ones that let my own imagination run wild, making suggestions of a scene or an atmosphere and letting me paint in the rest in my head.

I’m very grateful for having had the extra hour in bed last night with the turning back of the clocks. It allowed me more reading time before the day began and I reached the end of Cassandra’s journals. My life at the castle is over, but it will remain in my head for quite some time to come.