Dodie Smith is famous for the book One Hundred and One Dalmatians, later a Disney movie, but is also known as the most successful female playwright of her age. I Capture the Castle was first published in 1949 and has never been out of print sine then. NEVER been out of print! That is astounding to me. I picked it up during my birthday book haul because I had read that J.K. Rowling loved it. Dodie Smith wrote the script for a two-act play with ‘musical notes’ for a 1954 West End production. A 2003 film starring Romola Garai as Cassandra, Bill Nighy as her father, Rose Byrne as her sister and Henry Cavill as Stephen Colley was generally appreciated by the audience. Finally, in April 2017 a musical version was put up at the Watford Palace Theatre northwest of London to positive reviews.
The first line is often quoted as one of the most memorable novel openers, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” The journal keeper is seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and she’s in the sink because she’s found that sitting in a place where you’ve never sat before can be inspiring. As evidence, she confides that she wrote her very best poem while sitting on the henhouse. Cassandra is a bookworm and her father was a one-hit wonder of an author who suffers from writer’s block, so the literary references abound. The family lives in a run-down castle that is part of the estate of nearby Scoatney Hall, whose owner has recently died. Village gossip has it that the heir is a wealthy American, Simon Cotton. Simon, his mother, and younger brother Neil become intrigued with the genteel but impoverished Mortmain family, and Rose, Cassandra’s beautiful older sister decides that she will wed Simon. From this point on, the book reads rather like Shakespeare, where no one seems to be in love with the right person. As it is told from a teenager’s perspective and in a more naive age, the 1930’s, it is an endearing coming of age story with a supremely loveable character. I wondered if Cassandra’s warning to her family would go unheeded as in the Greek myth, but it didn’t play out that way.
Speaking of book covers, the book I read had the top cover. I wish it had been the other one because it so succinctly captures the gist of the book, including whimsy. The green one lacks imagination, and that is kind of insulting to this most imaginative book.
While Rose is in London, Cassandra goes forward with their annual Midsummer’s Eve celebration without her. Everyone else had someplace else to be, so Cassandra was utterly alone in the castle, except for the dog and the cat, Heloise and Abelard (of course). Just as Cassandra was beginning the rituals, someone called out to her. It happened to be Simon Cotton, the object of Rose’s affections. Having spent the day at Scoatney with the estate agent, Simon decided to pay a call on Cassandra and her father at the castle. When he realizes that its Midsummer’s Eve, he asks to be a part of the rites, as Rose had told him about the fun she and Cassandra used to have with them. When they were done and waiting for the fire’s embers to die down, a carpet of mist had crept in and mounted so high down by the moat that only the castle towers rose above it. The last of the day’s light faded as the moon rose, casting a silver light upon the mist. Simon, totally charmed by the view, wondered if anyone could capture the atmosphere in paint, then decided that Debussy could have done it in music. When Cassandra claims not to know Debussy’s music, Simon insists on taking her to Scoatney for dinner and a listen to Clair de Lune on the record player. This is Jean Efflam Bavouzet’s interpretation from Youtube.
Cassandra and Rose are dispatched to London to collect their deceased Aunt Millicent’s clothes. They have been given money for the train and taxis, and lunch. Laden down with furs they hadn’t known about, when they couldn’t quickly find a taxi, Cassandra persuaded Rose to go get something to eat first. They found a white table-clothed restaurant on Oxford Street, (la dee dah) where they finished off their modest meal with a treacle pudding.
Microwave Treacle Sponge Pudding
yield: 4-5 servings
½ C self-rising flour*
½ C sugar
½ C butter
3 T treacle or jam, if you prefer
1 T hot water
English custard or fresh cream
Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric hand mixer, then beat in the eggs and flour.
Grease a medium (roughly 1½ pint) bowl, and pour in the treacle. Microwave the treacle on medium power for 30 seconds, or until the syrup has melted.
Add 1 tbsp of hot water to the flour/egg mixture and mix in.
Pour the flour/egg mixture into the bowl with the hot syrup, cover the top of the bowl with Saran wrap, and microwave on full power for 3 minutes, or until done.
Note: Microwave wattages vary; please watch your mixture carefully to make sure it does not overcook in the microwave. Also make sure your saran wrap is microwave safe. Not all plastic cling wraps are safe for microwave use.
Leave the pudding to cool for 5-10 minutes, and then turn out onto a serving plate.
Serve with English custard or fresh cream, and a few summer berries.
*I didn’t have self-rising flour, but a google search had me add about a teaspoon of baking powder to cake flour and it worked fine, although I’d like to see if it would rise higher with the right flour.
If you don’t have any custard powder on hand, you can mix up a batch using cornstarch, an egg yolk, milk, and vanilla essence. Mix 1 cup milk with 2 tsp cornstarch and bring to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat and beat in egg yolk and 1 tsp vanilla essence. Return the mixture to the heat, and continue stirring until it boils.
This was not as successful. I added some confectioner’s sugar to sweeten it, and that improved the flavor, but it never set like a custard should. We still spooned it over the pudding for the flavor, if not the texture.