Sunday, February 7, 2010
I Capture the Castle
Published: 1954 (I'm blurring the "mid" 20th century with this one)
"Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain wants to become a writer. Trouble is, she's the daughter of a once-famous author with a severe case of writer's block. Her family--beautiful sister Rose, brooding father James, ethereal stepmother Topaz--is barely scraping by in a crumbling English castle they leased when times were good. Now there's very little furniture, hardly any food, and just a few pages of notebook paper left to write on. Bravely making the best of things, Cassandra gets hold of a journal and begins her literary apprenticeship by refusing to face the facts. She writes, "I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic, two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud." Rose longs for suitors and new tea dresses while Cassandra scorns romance: "I know all about the facts of life. And I don't think much of them." But romantic isolation comes to an end both for the family and for Cassandra's heart when the wealthy, adventurous Cotton family takes over the nearby estate. Cassandra is a witty, pensive, observant heroine, just the right voice for chronicling the perilous cusp of adulthood. Some people have compared I Capture the Castle to the novels of Jane Austen, and it's just as well-plotted and witty. But the Mortmains are more bohemian--as much like the Addams Family as like any of Austen's characters. Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmations, wrote this novel in 1948. And though the story is set in the 1930s, it still feels fresh, and well deserves its reputation as a modern classic." (Amazon.com)
I feel very close to Cassandra, and this book. Sometimes you meet a character who so closely mirrors yourself that you start knowing what they are going to say before you read the words. That is how I felt the first time I read this. It will always be one of my favorite books. If I ever want to remember how I felt when I was 17, all I have to do is read this again. It was published in 1954, which makes it sort of outside the lines of this genre, but it is set in the 1930s.