Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith by Valerie Grove - review by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser

Young Women on the Verge of Life

Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith

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Two Sisters, one beautiful, the other lively and witty, living in the country, virtually penniless… and into the neighbourhood come two young men, wealthy, unmarried; there are misunderstandings, coldness, but, finally, love triumphs (and the sisters are no longer poverty-stricken). No, this is not the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but of a somewhat later best seller, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, first published in 1940. (Or perhaps one should say earlier best seller, given that Pride and Prejudice seems to have been freshly minted in 1995.) Certainly the parallels are close enough for Rose Mortmain (Jane Bennet to her sister Cassandra’s Eliza) to remark on them at the beginning of the book:

Did you think of anything when Miss Marcy said Scoatney Hall was being reopened? I thought of Pride and Prejudice  – where Mrs Bennet says “Netherfield is let at last”. And then Mr Bennet goes over to call on the rich new owner.

 

To this, her more cynical younger sister Cassandra replies gloomily: ‘Mr Bennet didn’t owe him any rent.’

This is not to suggest that the sprightly Dodie Smith plagiarised Jane Austen – the differences between the two books are far greater than the apparent similarities. Still less is it to estimate Dodie

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