I Capture the Castle

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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."
J.K.Rowling


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.

Tropes used in I Capture the Castle include:


  • 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.
Cassandra: But you didn't have a lantern.
Topaz: He didn't have a bear.