I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith


This very pleasant audiobook set in the 1930s was written by a homesick British woman living in California. She later wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Cassandra Mortmain is a 17-year-old girl writing her diary in practice for becoming a novelist. She was living in a Jane Austen world: she lives in the beautiful English countryside with her family in a ruined castle with no money coming in. Her father had written one very successful novel, but hasn't written anything for years. Her beautiful sister Rose will marry anyone with money so the family will be able to eat. Her stepmother Topaz, famous for posing nude for renown photographers, lovingly cooks and cleans for the family. Stephen, son of the family housekeeper who has died, does the outside work and is devoted to Cassandra. 

Then two American brothers and their mother move into Skoatney (think Netherfield Park), the beautiful large house nearby. Rose sees her opportunity and wins Simon, the one who as oldest son will inherit. It becomes apparent that Rose doesn't really love Simon at around the same time that Cassandra discovers she does. The plot also involves efforts to induce Mr. Mortmain to begin writing again and whether Stephen will be seduced by an older London sophisticate. 

Aside from the teenage antics, the beloved English countryside and traditions suggested by living in a 600-year-old castle are the stars of this book. The moony romanticism is front and center. I cannot imagine how this got on my radar screen, but it was a very pleasant accompaniment to walking and various Thanksgiving prep tasks.

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle, Little, Brown, 1948, 343 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries. 

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