April, 2019: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

No, I didn’t choose this book because the author shares a name with my sister, but it would have been a fine reason!

(Book #108) Melissa hosted this book discussion and if I would have been thinking and scheduled her for a warmer month, we could have gone to the upper ramparts of her castle, but once again I failed the club. Below is the summary of the meeting shared with the group:

I write this sitting on the tiled bench of our shower stall. “Why do I have a desktop computer in the shower?” you’re wondering. Well of course the water’s not on, and it would be rude of me to turn on the lights in the bedroom and wake my husband while I try to record all that happened at tonight’s meeting. I have to do it quickly if there’s any hope of remembering it all.
Melissa hosted tonight’s discussion of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Because I just returned from six days at Disney, I provided all the girls with foil-covered and castle emblazoned chocolate to enjoy during their next bath. As mentioned on the outside cover of the chocolate, I did not so much capture the castle as collapse at it.  Rosalie and Karen may have a hope of receiving theirs from Marcia, but Linda may not want to get her hopes up about Geri’s delivery service. I still have Susan’s and Mary’s chocolates. 
Chris asked us all how we interpreted the title and was dismayed to realize that most of us were satisfied with the notion that Cassandra was able to “capture” the castle, its residents and events with her journaling. Chris wanted to believe that just as conquerers of old laid claim to castle battlements, Cassandra was able to grow into her place in the castle, capture it and make it her own. Chris is poetic like that.
But I get ahead of myself. Dinner started with an assortment of wines and English sausage and cheeses. The table was set in perfect English style with a planter of bluebells as the centerpiece and place cards for the story’s characters. Due to last minute cancellations there was no Mortmain. We enjoyed chicken pot pies with lovely puff pastry and a  mixed salad with what appeared to be freshly caught garden bugs, though they might have been black sesame seeds. The pie and the salad were delicious. Dessert was a lovely pudding with sticky toffee sauce and whipped cream.
Throughout dinner and dessert there were a number of discussions about the book (and an equal number not about the book.) I’ll list the ones having to do with the novel. First was a dressing down of Mortmain as head of the family; if you know you can no longer write, get another job, don’t allow your family to starve! We talked of what a perfect book it would have been to read in our teens and two teams were formed to back either Stephen or Simon as the young man for Cassandra. There was great appreciation for the description of the Midsummer rites: “That such a tiny flame could make the twilight seem deeper and so much more blue; we thought of that as the beginning of the magic.” There was also great appreciation for Topaz and her eccentricities.  Chris enjoyed Cassandra’s confession: “The one piece of Bach I learnt made me feel I was being repeatedly hit on the head with a teaspoon.” I liked the curious nature that wondered “what fly was originally in what ointment?” We talked about one of the references in the novel that comes up when Mortmain asks that they convince Topaz that he’s “not both the little princes in the tower.” You would recognize the reference if you know your history or if you studied Shakespeare’s Richard III, in which both of the King Edward IV’s sons are locked in the tower and later killed so that Richard might usurp the throne. There was another reference that I meant to bring up “like a victim going to Auto de Fé. I had to Google that one.
Then because Sharon was with us for the first time since Christmas, I thought she’d been missing quizzes like the ones we did throughout the year of books made into films. I put together a quiz of famous first lines because the first line of I Capture the Castle, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” makes many of the lists of the best first lines in literature. My quiz involved the first lines of books we have read as a group that made it on to any of the famous lists. It turns out that Sharon was not missing those quizzes. Nor was Marcia. Chris was high scorer with 11 out of 15 and won a tiny bottle of Prosecco. Marcia was low scorer with 4 of 15 and won a tiny bottle of Prosecco.
After creating such a disturbance with the quiz, you’d think that I would leave well enough alone but no, I also distributed the list of choice for next year’s reads: This Book Club is Going to the Birds. Marcia took copies for Rosalie and Karen; Geri took a copy for Linda. (If you see the book list, Linda, you might ask about the chocolate.) You have until September to vote. I will bring copies for Mary and Susan to our next meeting which is at Susan’s on Tuesday, May 21.
Thank you so much Melissa for a lovely evening– I failed to mention who joined us for dinner because I am so terrible with names but she admitted to being the one who caught the bugs for the salad. Maybe you can add that detail — to all the other details that made tonight such a charming evening. Love from your

Famous First Lines of Literature: Match each of the numbered quotations to the author/title of the book.

1. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

2. They say when trouble comes close ranks and so the white people did. 

3. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. 

4. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. 

5. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

6. I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too. 

7. In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers. 

8. Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hoping judgement would not be too heavy upon him. 

9. I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. 

10. The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. 

11. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again. 

12. My sister, Greta, and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying. 

13. The first time Cora heard the name Louise Brooks, she was parked outside the Wichita Library in a Model-T Ford, waiting for the rain to stop. 

14. It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. 

15. Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

A.Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

B. Zadie Smith, White Teeth

C. Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

D. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (quoted in The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

E. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

F. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

G Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children 

H Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I. Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

J. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

K. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

L. Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

M. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

N. Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone

O. Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

P. Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife