By Dodie Smith
I was lead to Dodie’s novel by reference to it in Sally Vickers book, The Librarian. Like two others noted from the same book it is a good few years old, first published in 1949, set mainly in the spring and summer of 1934.
The Mortmain family is living in a slightly dilapidated, leased castle. The family consists of James, the father. Topaz, James’s second wife and stepmother to his children, their natural mother having died in the years before the novel is set.
Topaz might be described as an unconventional free spirit. While she doesn’t, perhaps, dote on the younger Mortmains, she certainly cares for them and does her best for them.
The Children are Rose, the eldest, Thomas, the youngest and Cassandra, the middle child and teller of the story. Living in the castle too is Stephen, the son of the Mortmain’s late former maid. Stephen is apparently in love with Cassandra.
Father James was a respected author. His one book being acclaimed but he has been unable to follow it up. His earnings from that book having initially paid for the rental of the castle. With time those earnings dwindled. When we meet the family, they have fallen on hard times, are living frugally and have been reduced to selling many of their possessions to survive.
The Mortmain fortunes begin unexpectedly to improve when the owner of the castle dies. The Scoatney estate, of which the castle is a part, is inherited by a well-to-do American family. The American’s do not at first realise that the castle, albeit leased to the Mortmains, is theirs until they ask who owns it. Cassandra in forms them ‘You do.”.
After a bumpy beginning the American Cotton family become friends with the Mortmains. Brothers Simon and Neal becoming firm friends with the two girls. Rose, the more attractive sister (and she knows it) sets her cap for Simon. Both Simon and Neal introduce the girls to new experiences and Mrs Cotton enjoys long, literary conversations with James mortmain.
I Capture The Castle relates a summer of one family’s history, between the wars. Whilst I wouldn’t describe the ending as having a twist, it was unexpected from the title, given that Dodie’s book is told in the first person, and from the progression of events as the story unfolds.
“But I have tried it, haven’t I? I’ve been to church.
It never seems to take.” – Cassandra Mortmain.