Classics Challenge: ‘I Capture the Castle’ Discussion
The winner of the Challenge (who shall receive a lovely Penguin Clothbound Classic for his or her efforts!) will be announced next week. Remember: any participation means you’re entered in the drawing to win, so share your thoughts below or on any of our previous Classics Challenge posts.
Onwards to the discussion! Spoilers, duh, and very short thoughts from me:
1. Consider Smith’s use of age and aging throughout the narrative.
While the entire story can easily be read as a basic coming-of-age maturity tale, I think Smith’s use of age is actually more interesting in that she often turns our ideas about the connection between age and maturity on its head. The oldest characters are often the least mature (Mortmain, I’m looking at you, you kook), while younger characters, like Rose, are matured by their circumstances beyond their age.
I also liked how Smith sharply divides age and maturity from wisdom and genius, suggesting that knowledge can be gained in various ways (through experience or divine spark), but that it is maturity that teaches us how to best apply it or use it. Cassandra’s painful realizations towards the end of the book about her love for Simon and its impossibility are a culmination of maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. As evidenced by the rest of the book, she would never have come to that point of sorrowful acknowledgement if she did not have all three.
2. How does America factor into the story? There are numerous descriptions of it throughout the book and the main characters all struggle grasp the idea of it.
I think America is used here as a sort of fantasy escape hatch. All the action in the novel is spurred by people arriving suddenly from America, Mortmain fondly remembers (or possibly fantasizes) about a past successful book tour in America, and Rose eventually runs off to live there. America is a place to escape from one’s “real” life in England. The very unreality of America is nicely illustrated by Cassandra’s continuing attempts to imagine it based on the descriptions she hears. She can’t even really wrap her head around it, but she continues to try and, as Rose goes to America and Simon is off to live there by the end of the book, America has slowly become slightly more real to her (and thus the reader). All the same, even though there is that slight progression, America in general is a fantasy catalyst for events in the book. I think Smith, visiting America herself when she wrote the book, must have been both longing for the familiarity of England and reveling in the newfound strangeness of America.
3. Secrets play a pivotal role throughout the book—Cassandra secrets away her writing, Mortmain keeps his new project a secret, Rose has her romantic secrets, and Stephen squirrels away part of his wages for a secret purpose. What do these secrets actually reveal about their owners and about our narrator?
Perhaps their true inner values? The characters all seem to keep secret the thing they care about most, hiding this from the people around them. I’m not sure what this says about the society of this book, other than if my secrets idea is correct it must be a very superficial one. Maybe Smith was commenting on the tightness of the quarters being condusive to secret-keeping, i.e. if one must share everything physical with everyone, having something, even if it’s something internal or mental, to yourself can be like gold.
So what did you all think of the book? Feel free, as ever, to deviate from the questions. I really enjoyed reading I Capture the Castle, but I was definitely less excited to discuss it in a scholarly way. It seems much more like a novel for calming reading and enjoining than dissecting.