In another life elsewhere, I dreamed of a place where castle spires curled upward to the sky, where cobbled streets led to secret passageways...
Castles figure in our collective daydreams, holding an allure that lies in forgotten fairytales. Perhaps that is why one of my favourite books is, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
The picture on my dresser reminds me of the book, a girl trailing balloons behind her, as if she has slipped away from the party unnoticed, to spend her time in quiet contemplation, much as the heroine of the book, Cassandra does.
The voice of young Cassandra makes abject poverty sound almost appealing. Dripping taps within an ancient, crumbling setting evoke a lost English bohemian existence. Dodie Smith twisted the state of melancholia into something almost a delight to the senses. The transience of natural beauty and the stabbing pain of love lost serve to remind me of my own youth.
It is said Dodie wrote the book whilst enduring bouts of homesickness during her time in America. This may explain the almost idealised representation of England, an aged castle and the eccentric family that reside there.
Castles were places of safety, perhaps for a fortunate few. Sanctuary may still lie within their walls, where past heroic deeds were performed. We may fall under their spell, time suspended momentarily.
When we grow up, we become aware of the shadowy world behind fairytales, the spectres that mock happy endings, faintly perceptible figures that lurk in narrow corridors. Our childish hopes are peppered with uncertainties. Like Cassandra giving up writing her poetry, we relinquish our dreams.
The novel falls into coming of age territory, yet it is also a celebration of unconventionality and artistic endeavour. Cassandra devotes much of her time to imagining, writing in her diary and commenting on other much celebrated writers. She is surrounded by creative people, her novelist father and her stepmother who serves as his muse. On reading the book, we believe again in a world of possibilities. We may begin to realise the worth of our own creative qualities, for their own value, not for their monetary worth..
Cassandra captures the castle, using her practial skills to force her father to write again. She grows to love herself, refusing the advances of someone that does not love her as they should. Her sensitivity and tendency to daydream, to fall into reverie, live alongside this practical self.
Castles are a symbol of beauty, mystery and years long past. They inspire the imagination when the world looks gloomy and sad. They are a place of inspiration for sagging spirits. To capture the castle, we can form a mental image of everything we ever gave up, reuniting us with a past self full of hope, that expected the story to turn out for the very best.
Thoreau once said: “ Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!" It is entirely fitting advice.