Dodie Smith is better known as the author of 101 Dalmatians, but her coming-of-age novel I Capture the Castle is a YA classic.
Cassandra Mortmain's family live in genteel poverty, highly educated but somehow incapable of earning a living. When they hear that the owners of their rented castle are coming back from America, they are terrified that this will mean that they finally have to pay actual rent. Instead, Cassandra and her beautiful sister Rose are faced with two rich and handsome young men, and after a lifetime spent reading Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. . . they're still pretty unprepared for what follows.
Dodie Smith wrote I Capture the Castle while she was living in America and homesick for England, and it shows. You can feel the dew and smell the bluebells. There would be lashings of ginger beer for tea, if the Mortmains had any money for ginger beer. Reading I Capture the Castle is like slipping back to a gentler time, not just because it's set in the 1930s (worrying close to a century ago. . .) but because Cassandra is so innocent (one of the dishy American landlords calls her 'consciously naive' and even Cassandra admits that he kind of has a point).
But the book itself isn't quite as innocent as all that. Cassandra summons elementals on Midsummer's Eve, hoists her sister to make wishes on a devil's head, and does something that she considers “wicked” among the bluebells. She encounters a lot of the things that have since become hallmarks of YA literature – first love, sibling rivalry, being the less pretty sister, an infatuated friend, disappointing parents, becoming an adult before she's quite ready, staying up all night, trying her first drink (a cherry brandy in the village pub rather than shots, admittedly). I Capture the Castle is one of my comfort reads but it doesn't shy away from the universal truth that bad things happen, and that all we can do as humans, sometimes, is handle it.
And when the narrator opens their memoirs by saying “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”, you know you're in good hands.
Thanks again, Ellen!
If you enjoy reading classics, or if you want to read more, why not join the fantastic Classics Challenge hosted by my friend Stacey over at Pretty Books? It's a great way to find other classics lovers, discuss books, and get and give recommendations. Check out this post and don't miss the hashtag