Books really can capture a moment in time. I had no recollection of when I first read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith until I reread the first page. Cassandra is writing in her journal, sitting on the kitchen bench with her feet in the sink so she can sit close to the window and write by the last of the fading sunlight. Instantly, I was transported back to my family’s kitchen in Paris. I must have read the book in the kitchen, wanting to sit, like Cassandra, with my feet in the sink. But as I read on, I remembered another detail I had erased from my mind.
I must have also read the book when I first moved back to Australia in 2004, as I can picture the apartment we stayed in before we moved back into our old Australian house. I can remember this, because this is where I started writing a story that my friend and I were going to write together – I write a few hundred words, then she adds a few hundred words, and so on and so forth.
Looking back now, I realise that the story I started writing was a complete rip off of I Capture the Castle – a family moving into a castle, a creative father, a older, more romantic sister – I added a governess and a younger brother, but the whole thing was heavily influenced by Cassandra and her family. This only serves to prove how much I loved the book. However, my friend, not knowing that I Capture the Castle was the inspiration for the story had the governess murdered. I lost interest in the story soon after that.
Both those times are wrapped up in the pages of the book, and rereading it now, I get an enormous sense of nostalgia. This might be because the whole book makes me nostalgic for a time that I never lived in. I remember loving the book when I first read it because I felt it was a ‘grown up’ book – there was a love story in it, and I never really read romance before. However, looking back I don’t think it was the love interests that captured me – it was the romance of the whole story. A family living in a castle, the romance that came with the poverty surrounding them – what they ate, how they recycled their dresses, how they talked – the artistic father and muse of a stepmother – it was all so romantic. That’s what I mean when I say I feel nostalgic for that time – not the 1930s per say, but specifically a crumbling castle in an English village in 1930.
I hope that next time I open the book, another time comes back to me – I started rereading this book when I was visiting my friend Steph in Port Lincoln. I hope I see her beachfront house, and the baking we did in the kitchen, and the rugs I lay under as I read on her couch… I hope that layer becomes inbedded in the book to, so I can be transported to all four places – the book, my kitchen in Paris, my childish story, and my visit to see Steph. Books can do that, you know.
My wife’s copy of this is somewhere around the house — I’ve always wanted to read this but have never got round to it. The 2003 BBC film (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0300015/) was partly shot at Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which is about an hour away from where we live and a spectacular site not far from the sea shore. I’ll definitely read this in 2014, especially after reading your fascinating commentary.
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