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Smith, Dodie

castle cassandra classic

(British, 1896–1990)

‘Shopgirl Writes Play’ ran the headline. A one-time actress (trained at RADA), at 35 Dodie Smith was hardly a girl when her first play was staged, and in fact was in charge of a department at Heal's, the fashionable furniture store. Exiled in America during the war, desperately homesick for England, she wrote I Capture the Castle (1949). From its memorable opening line, ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’, the 17-year-old narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, captivates the reader as she describes a life of penury in a gloomy Gothic castle with her oddball family. Wise beyond her years, romantic and lyrical, yet beadily perceptive (‘A thoroughly dangerous girl’, someone observes), Cassandra is wonderfully engaging and believable. The book has become a classic with both adults and teenagers. Late in her career Smith produced another classic, The Hundred and one Dalmatians (1956), made into a Disney film—and created another immortal female character in Cruella de Vil.

Daisy Ashford, Laurie Lee, Saki.

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