From The Wall Street Journal:
Each time I reread “I Capture the Castle,”—roughly once a year, or whenever my lagging spirit needs a kick-start—it feels like a homecoming. But I’ll admit: Dodie Smith’s 1948 tale about the fortunes and foibles of the Mortmain family, cooped up together in a crumbling castle and cut off from the outside world, has never seemed more apt than in this age of quarantine. “Castle” is often classified as “young adult” fiction, perhaps because Smith remains better known for her kiddie classic “The Hundred and One Dalmatians.” But its sophisticated charms defy pigeonholing. Would anyone paint “Pride and Prejudice”—the text from which “Castle” is self-consciously descended—with so sloppy a brush?
The cast of characters consists of our protagonist, precocious Cassandra; her pretty, pouting older sister, Rose; a younger brother; and an adopted hired hand; their bohemian stepmother, Topaz, a former artist’s model who resembles a lovely “angel of death”; and their father, a Joycean man-of-letters whose chronic writer’s block underlies most of the family’s woes. Though they have a 40-year lease on the castle, the destitute Mortmains despair of improved prospects—that is, until the Cotton brothers, Americans who have newly inherited the estate, arrive on the scene. With a brazenness that verges on bloodlust, Rose vows to land one for a husband and reverse the family fortunes.
Smith began writing the book, which is set in the 1930s, during World War II, while she and her conscientious-objector husband were living in exile in California. And indeed, as Cassandra strives to “capture” the castle in her diaries, what she most succeeds in recording is wistfulness for a time and place that may never be the same. Sound familiar? At one point, Cassandra considers the letdown one gets from “brick-wall happy endings,” where readers lose “the fun of thinking something wonderful may be just around the corner.” Thankfully hers is not that kind of story.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)