Consciously Naive; ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodi Smith [1948]

There are moments when you connect to a character so completely you are unsure where they end and you begin; their lives intertwine with yours like a merging strand of DNA. We may not have had a lot of money growing up, we never went abroad, but we always did something interesting – times never felt tough. We certainly weren’t poor, holidays were travels to beachy Cornwall or trips to castles, old houses and museums. I doubt I was as enthusiastic with this rose-tinted idyll as a child, I probably wanted to do whatever my friends were doing, however, I now appreciate it for the educational experience that it was.

I Capture the Castle was like a trip into my childhood; I am not sure if this is good or bad, as it involves a naivety and an unrealistic view of the world, but it is never remembered with sorrow.


‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ is the first line of this timeless, witty and enchanting novel about growing up. Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer’s block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time.Synopsis from GoodReads

I may end this blog charged with adjective abuse, because whenever I think of I Capture the Castle I immediately think ‘beautiful’, ‘stunning’ or ‘wondrous’ – they swim about my mind in written form and in castle-esc shapes. This may also read as one long ode to Cassandra Mortmain, our blossoming protagonist, who I gradually grew to adore; apologies in advance.

First impressions had me sympathising with Rose, Cassandra’s discontented older sister, rather than the unsure young girl writing whilst sat with her feet in the sink desperate to utilise that last fragment of the day’s light. I sympathised with Rose’s desperation for money and frustration with their stepmother Topaz for her lack of economical drive – an example of how first impressions are almost always deceiving. Eventually it felt inevitable that Rose’s intentions would be utterly different to Cassandra’s perception, and while deplorable were understandable.

This is a coming of age story that so fits my own; I completely understand that feeling of being just on the edge of understanding, of never feeling intelligent enough – somehow missing what everyone else understands. Cassandra epitomizes falling in love when young – to desperately desire that person to love you equally; to fantasise and know the fantasy will never come true – even if just because you fantasised about it. When Neil and Simon, the American owners of Cassandra’s castle home, visited, you sensed the complete bafflement and arousement of change in the air. I felt as if I too fell in love with befuddled Simon, and so felt for Stephen – more adult than anyone ever gave him credit for. I Capture the Castle, for me, was a journey of love in all its guises; its depiction of how selfish we are in love, and the selfish things we do for it, was beautiful. Apart from Mortmain, the eccentric genius, each character acted selfishly and irrationally in regards to their love for one another (Mortmain is selfish in general, regardless of love.)

I found it interesting that as Cassandra’s awareness developed, so the other characters either matured or came to frustrate me. Stephen became a man, and Cassandra set him free – not ever really comprehending his love for her. Thomas, Cassandra’s young brother, in a moment of young clarity reflects that one day Cassandra will realise what she has lost in Stephen; however, we know she may, but she may not – such is love. Cassandra may come to romanticises Stephen as Simon’s absence extends – as inevitably it will, yet Cassandra will never really want Stephen back, only miss their relationship prior to realising he loved her. I ended Cassandra’s journey with hope; hope that Simon would return to a more adult Cassandra and fall in love with her, although, realistically Cassandra is probably right, Simon will forget England unless something important enough brings him back.

Set in an age of simplicity and beauty, I Capture the Castle is so much more than I have described. You will leave Cassandra; in love, heartbroken, wishing for spring, longing for fields and flowers, and craving castles. Do not let this book pass you by!

That’s another one crossed off the Before 30 list, thanks for recommending it Charlie!

8 thoughts on “Consciously Naive; ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodi Smith [1948]

  1. I feel I’ve never read this before, what you’ve written here makes me want to read it again because I definitely missed something, even if I can relate to what you’ve said. Excellent review, Alice, and I’m glad you liked it!


  2. Pingback: Bad Comma

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