Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers for Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
I remember the day I bought the book. It was a rainy summer day in Cape Cod, and my family did what we always do when the weather fails us on a beach vacation: we went to a bookstore.
I found it on one of those spinning shelves. It had a gorgeous green cover that looked like wallpaper, but, more importantly, it had an endorsement from J.K. Rowling. I knew I had to get it.
Still, just to be sure, I read the back of the book. A girl living in a castle with a writer father? She was around my age? I couldn’t get to the cash register fast enough.
I devoured that book. I don’t think I had ever read a book faster in my life (and I don’t think I have read a book as quickly since). The writing was beautiful; I felt like I was really living in a time of wirelesses (radios) and fading gentry. The characters felt more real to me than my own friends. So real that I fell in love.
His name is Stephen, and he is pretty much everything a teenaged girl would dream of: model handsome (literally), sweet, loves books, and hardworking. The only problem? The protagonist, Cassandra, doesn’t pick him in the love triangle (this was written before love triangles were cool). She is in love with her sister’s fiance, and, even after he is free to marry her because his brother ran off with Cassandra’s sister (there is some real drama in the book), she turns him down as well. So, basically, she ends up alone.
I think this was the first time in my life I threw a book across the room. Not because she turned down her sister’s fiance (forget that guy), but because she broke poor, romantic Stephen’s heart. Even after he scrimped and saved to buy her a wireless (I think the scene he gives it to her is the most heartbreaking scene in literature). I had never felt more angry at an author in my life.
It is my favorite book of all time.
Because I threw the book across the room.
Look, it would have been easier for Dodie Smith to make me happy. Give Cassandra the adorable boy next door and have them live happily ever after! But you know what? Real life doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes people fall in love with the wrong people.
Also, the ending would have been less interesting and empowering. She could have done the safe thing: have Cassandra pick a male point in the triangle, but she does something braver: she picks herself. She decides that she doesn’t want to be second best, even though it might make her happier in the short-term. She chooses to value herself first. And I cannot think of a more important lesson for a teenager to learn.
So what does this have to do with you, my dear reader? Be brave. Write an ending or make narrative decisions that will piss some people off. Make sure your book has dents on its side from the number of times the reader has thrown it across the room. Be true to life (which is usually not neat). Take creative risks. Just don’t do it for the sake of making people angry (I am looking at you, Louisa May Alcott. JO AND LAURIE FOREVER!). Be sure that you are doing it in a way that makes sense for the characters and the world you created.
Oh, and do I still reread the book, hoping for a different ending (against all logic)? Hell yes. What? I am only human.