Made Up Quotes – Dodie Smith

I Capture The Castle

Revisiting this novel has made me quite emotional. When I say emotional, I mean it’s left me sobbing. If you haven’t yet read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, I insist you buy or loan a copy immediately because a life isn’t worth living that hasn’t read the opening line, ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’

I exaggerate. But this is a beautiful novel written by Dodie Smith, best known for 101 Dalmatians. Dodie turned to this story in her 50s when she was living a successful life in California, and missing Britain terribly. She wrote this gazing over the Pacific Ocean.

Ostensibly a children’s novel, it speaks to anyone who has ever gone through the pain of growing up, falling in love and understanding that there are no happy endings in life – or even endings. The BBC produced a gorgeous and loyal adaptation, if you can get your hands on it.

It goes without saying that the same author who created Cruella de Vil understood the power of clothes. As far as I can see, there’s only one small sewing scene in I Capture The Castle but it’s a key scene:

All week we were getting ready for the party. Topaz bought yards and yards of pink muslin for Rose’s frock and made it most beautifully. (At one time, before she was an artist’s model, Topaz worked at a great dress-maker’s, but she will never tell us about it – or about any of her pasts, which always surprises me because she is so frank about so many things.) … It was fun while we were all sewing the frills for the dress; I kept pretending we were in a Victorian novel.

I Capture The Castle ii

Fabric is Isle of Wight Liberty Tana Lawn, featuring Carisbrook Castle

Rose and her sister, Cassandra, are getting ready for a party that will change their lives. It’s a small but telling detail that Topaz buys pink muslin. The family is poor and muslin is cheap.

At the party, Rose will convince the rich American, Simon, to fall in love with her and soon she’s to be swept out of the poverty she craves to escape. She moves down to London and starts to prepare for her wedding. From the city, she writes to the sister she’s abandoned in a crumbling castle…

You are to have the most beautiful bridesmaid’s frock – you are to come up to be fitted for it – and I think the ready-made clothes I am wearing now can be altered for you, once I get my trousseau. And when I am married we will shop like mad for you.

Rose is a fast learner when it comes to the fine art of self-improvement – or, at least, acquiring a better wardrobe. A few chapters ago, she was thrilled to have a homemade dress sewn for a party. Now, even the luxury of wearing shop-bought threads has become outre as she visits couture houses to have her trousseau made. Poor Cassandra is expected to be grateful from afar for the hand-me-downs and for the bridesmaid dress that she will be fitted for on Rose’s orders. Oh, big sisters! Oh, shallow, vain, self-serving big sisters! (I was one. I’m allowed to say that.)

There is no neat solution to I Capture The Castle. Plans and love affairs are going to unravel, ravel back up, get knotted, loosen themselves. The final diary entry doesn’t feel like a happy ending necessarily, but it feels like an ending written for today’s brooding weather:

A mist is rolling over the fields. Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad? There was mist on Midsummer Eve, mist when we drove into the dawn.

He said he would come back.

Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.

And now I’m crying again.

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25 Responses to Made Up Quotes – Dodie Smith

  1. almostahippy says:

    I love this book! It always makes me so sad too.

  2. I love the movie, I have the DVD. But I’ve not read it. I will, thank you. 🙂

  3. JaneyB says:

    I love this book – and the excellent film adaptation. There is also a wonderful bit where they dye all their clothes green! I was wondering what to do on a wet Bank Holiday Monday. Perhaps I’ll dig out the DVD and watch it again.

  4. TamsinW-P says:

    You’ve got me going now….. I love this book too – one of my top ten if I had to choose one! I’ts also in the Womans Hour top 30 books that they did a few years ago.

  5. I have never read this. Thank you for the recommendation although if it made you all cry it won’t be one I will take on the commute. 🙂 Xx

  6. sew2pro says:

    I couldn’t stand the book but nearly converted after watching the film which turned me into an avid Romola Garai fan.

    The green dye scenes reminded me of teenage experimentation with Dylon (the non-machine method)!

    Your photos for this post are lovely and that fabric is a perfect find.

  7. lauriesannie says:

    Unfortunately, I saw the movie before I read the book. Always a mistake. When I finally got a copy of the book, I loved it. One of the few books I did not pass on. Thanks for a good memory.

  8. louise says:

    Oddly enough, my 12 year old daughter came home from the book shop with this book this week, I’ll look forward to the sobbing and torment and then I might read it myself and suffer with her!

    • Aw, now this is a sadness for me around not having children – being robbed of the opportunity to hang over their shoulder asking, ‘What do you think? What do you think?!’ as they turn the pages. Hmmmm, probably best I don’t have kids!

      • Jen says:

        Well… I do have two children and when they were tiny I so looked forward to sharing my own childhood book favourites (I was an avid, passionate devour-er of books) BUT!!!! They didn’t (and don’t now) have the same taste all. I found it really hard that they didn’t love the books that I had loved! I tried to make them read my favourite authors (Ursula le Guin, Robert Westall, Susan Cooper, Lucy M Boston, Alan Garner, Elizabeth Goudge, etc….) and they didn’t like them! My son wanted to read Anthony Horowitz and Charlie Higson; my daughter is a little more adventurous but still not for my old favourites. I still feel sad that they won’t get the same buzz that I did from my favourite books – but presumably they will have their own favourites?
        I too, loved ‘I Capture The Castle’ and remember dyeing buckets of clothes using Dylon!

  9. nuala says:

    I first read I Capture The Castle many years ago. It went straight into my top 10 where it has remained ever since. You’ve put me in mind to read it again. Thanks!

  10. connecttheknots says:

    I just finished this book last week. It was very enjoyable. And shocking at least at the end. You can still be happy even if you have nothing.

  11. This is one of my favourite books of all time – exquisite.

  12. Colleen says:

    I did enjoy that book, although the ending was sad.

    Have you ever read LMM’s “The Blue Castle”? I re-read that one about once a year. I think there’s a copy on Project Gutenberg. The character of Barney Snaith is one of her better-drawn male characters, and I identified a lot with Valancy when I was in my teens (although the character of Valancy is 30).

  13. Lesley Shedwick says:

    Fabulous book. Absolutely loved it – and the TV adaptation too.

  14. I absolutely love this book. I’ve read it three times, and I will read it again. It’s such a gorgeous story.

  15. Gaylene says:

    Thank you for reminding me how much I love love love this book!

  16. belgianseams says:

    I recently read this book and absolutely loved it! Lovely post 🙂

  17. Melwyk says:

    I also love this book (and The Blue Castle, too, incidentally). Cassandra is a wonderful narrator, and I really appreciate the way the book remains open-ended. So bittersweet, and so unforgettable.

  18. Pennie says:

    Read this book oh about 50 years ago. Not sure when it was published bit it feels that long ago. Still remember it. Must find it and read again.

  19. Heather Lou says:

    I love love LOVED this book so much.. a good reminder to reread it this fall when the temperatures start getting Englishy….

  20. Gail says:

    Do you know Dodie means beloved in Hebrew? I loved her book too.

  21. Paula says:

    I saw the movie ages ago and loved it so much went and bought the book to read. It’s one of my favorites, too.

  22. amcclure2014 says:

    Thank you. I have a copy and will read it. I didn’t see the adaptation but I generally feel it is better to read the book first. There are a few exceptions to that I can think of, of course.

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