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Literature / I Capture the Castle

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"And I regret to say that there were moments when my deep and loving pity for her merged into a desire to kick her fairly hard.”
Cassandra Mortmain, "I Capture the Castle"

Set in the 1930s in England, I Capture the Castle (1948) is Dodie Smith’s best-loved (though little-known) book, with the power to leave its readers with a mild case of the warm fuzzies.

I Capture the Castle is the journal of Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a rented castle in the depths of Suffolk with her impoverished and decidedly unconventional family: her reclusive father, who was once a very famous and ground-breaking author until he was sent to prison for three months for threatening his wife with a cake knife; her eccentric and glamorous stepmother, Topaz, who was once a nude model and still believes in "communing with nature"; her flawed but beautiful elder sister, Rose, who is desperately sick of being poor; her younger brother, Thomas, who is smart and doesn’t appear much in the book until the second half, and the hired hand, Stephen Colly, who is extremely handsome and desperately in love with Cassandra.


The plot begins when the young American heirs to the castle and its property, Simon and Neil Cotton, plus various sophisticated relations, come to England to look it over. In doing so, they run smack-bang into Cassandra having a bath. After the initial awkwardness is over, they get along swimmingly. Before long, Simon and Rose become engaged. Then Cassandra falls in love with Simon, which messes things up for her a bit. But even though she’s lovesick, she still manages to hatch a plot with her brother to get their father writing again.

Even when she’s in the midst of lovesickness, family rows and a couple of embarrassing mishaps, Cassandra still manages to be level-headed and adventurous. She is sometimes naïve and sometimes astonishingly wise, but always intelligent, funny, optimistic and unexpectedly honest.


Made into a movie by The BBC in 2003 starring Romola Garai as Cassandra, Rose Byrne as Rose, Marc Blucas as Neil, Henry Thomas as Simon, and Henry Cavill as Stephen.

This book provides examples of:

  • Abuse Mistake: Cassandra's father wasn't really threatening his wife with the cake knife.
  • Abusive Parents: Still, some of Mr. Mortmain's behaviour toward his children, especially Cassandra is physically abusive and he is guilty of severely neglecting them.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Stephen loves Cassandra, who loves Simon, who loves Rose. Who loves Neil. That, at least, is requited.
  • Beard of Evil: Cassandra thinks Simon's goatee makes him look like a gargoyle.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Played with when Cassandra nearly believes Neil's lie about killing the bear — which she knows didn't even exist:
    Neil: I held the lantern high; I could see the bubbles coming up. And then I saw the dark bulk of it under the water, being carried along by the current.
    Cassandra: But you didn't have a lantern.
    Topaz: He didn't have a bear.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The Mortmain females. Topaz is silver blonde, Cassandra is a light to medium brunette and Rose has ginger hair. (In The Film of the Book, it's slightly altered: Cassandra's the blonde, Topaz has light brown hair, but Rose is still a redhead.)
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor damn Stephen just can't win.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: The unrequited variety; Stephen is in love with Cassandra.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe. James Mortmain.
  • Damsel in Distress: Not really, but in the minds of the villagers the Cotton brothers saved Rose from an escaped circus bear.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Rose and her peach-coloured towels. And her little black suit.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Stephen to Cassandra.
  • Fanservice: In the BBC movie, Topaz gets naked, although we only see her from the waist up. This could also rank as Fan Disservice as there are far more female fans than male fans.
    • Cassandra too, sunbathing naked on top of the tower.
  • First Kiss: Cassandra has hers with Simon. Rose has hers with Neil.
  • Giftedly Bad: Topaz should stick to modelling. Her painting of the Tower apparently looks like an upturned pudding basin and a rolling pin.
  • Girl in the Tower: Cassandra likes this trope given her nude sunbathing on top of the Belmonte tower. She and Thomas later imprison their father there to inspire him to write.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Subverted, as beautiful Rose and clever Cassandra are very fond of each other.
  • Gold Digger: Rose.
  • The Ingenue: Cassandra gradually grows out of this.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Cassandra. And Simon. And Stephen!
  • Hidden Depths: Thomas, at first he is just a cheerful young boy but then he shows that he is fairly well versed in psychology and understands modern literature much better than Cassandra.
  • Kid Sidekick: Thomas.
  • Likes Older Women: Stephen who likes the older Leda Fox-Cotton.
  • Love Epiphany: Cassandra for Simon.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Cassandra, for a while.
  • Missing Mom: In the book, Cassandra cannot even remember her face until she suddenly pictures her giving her a piece of advice.
  • Nice Guy: Stephen.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Topaz's topless shots got an 'R' rating from the MPAA. In Australia the film is rated 'PG 15'.
  • Nude Nature Dance: Cassandra's artsy stepmother, Topaz, loves doing this kind of thing to "commune" with nature.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Cassandra.
  • Pretty in Mink: Rose gets mistaken for a bear while wearing a fur coat.
  • Reclusive Artist: Again in-universe. James Mortmain.
  • Sibling Triangle: Cassandra, Rose and Simon.
    • Another is Rose, Simon and Neil.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Cassandra references this trope in the third part of the book, when she refers to herself and Rose as "two Brontë-Jane Austen girls, poor but spirited, two girls of Godsend Castle."
  • Starving Artist: Cassandra's father, James Mortmain.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: Cassandra doesn't find out till much later that Rose and Neil kissed.
  • Writer's Block: James Mortmain has long since given into his when the book begins. Cassandra and her younger brother Thomas take unorthodox steps to cure him of it.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: They may not have started out this way, but the Mortmains have ended up here.


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