Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Capture the Castly by Dodie Smith

There is a HYSTERICAL Goodreads review of I Capture the Castle that totally sums up my view of the book. I was so underwhelmed by this book, but I wanted to love it because three different people have told me that this is a good follow-up to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, for which my love is deep and abiding.  But I just didn't love it at all. I know this book is beloved in Britain (#82 in the The Big Read), but I guess I'm just not enough of an Anglophile for it to resonate with me.

I found our heroine*, Cassandra Mortmain, to be absolutely insufferable in her faux-naive, "quirky" character. Sometimes she would be journaling her "complicated" feelings (do I love this man? or this man? or THIS one?) and instead of coming across as interesting or revealing, it came off as narcissistic and unaware. Overall, there wasn't a single redeemable character in this entire novel, except for the Heloise the dog.

But.

I was reading this book in the midst of Trump/Bush tapes, presidential debates of looniness, and absolute sexism radiating out of every corner of society coming from men AND women. I heard graphic descriptions of sexual assault referred to as "locker room talk," I imagined a conversation with my dead father in my head in which he defended Donald Trump, and, in case that wasn't a giveaway, I was losing my damn mind. The mantra "you lived through the 2000 election, you are the product of Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Roosevelt, and you are strong" was not enough to keep me going.

And this book reminded me of how far we have come.

Yes, sexist language is rampant. Yes, women are still paid far less for the exact same work men do. Yes, victims of sexual assault are repeatedly revictimized by the criminal justice system if they want to see the perpetrators of the crimes against them punished legally. Yes, the right to choose a form of birth control is still mostly controlled by men (at my last ob-gyn appointment I was asked if my husband "approved" of my birth control method).  Yes, my teaching evaluations are lower than my husband's just because I'm a woman.

But sexist language is no longer acceptable in many homes in the United States. The polls showing support for Trump declined dramatically after the Trump/Bush tape was released.  Some women have the opportunity to live their dreams and aspire to careers their mothers and grandmothers could never have imagined.  You don't have to get married, have a child, and cook and clean every day to be a successful woman anymore. You can CHOOSE that and that's great if you want it. But you don't HAVE to.  Cassandra Mortmain could NOT have imagined a life other than marriage --> children or old maid --> failure.  She is not us anymore.

And somehow that's gotten me through this time. 

*I was grading a student paper recently and she had written "heroine" every single time she meant "heroin" and I was hysterical by the end of paper. She had also confused "hostel" for "hostile" and I just couldn't stop giggling. That is all. Thank you for allowing me to share this teaching story.

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