Back a few years ago, I was looking at J.K. Rowling’s influences, adding her favorite novels to my To-Read list, when I came across the name Dodie Smith.
Rowling said a fan told her to read Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and she did and she loved it. In fact, Rowling went on to add a byline review (or whatever you call them) on the most recent version of the novel, stating that “[t]his book has one of the most charismatic narrators I’ve ever met” which is a perfect way of characterizing Cassandra Mortimer. It was the first Dodie Smith novel I read and I immediately fell in love with this author.
Smith’s autobiographies are just as interesting and colorful as her novels and plays. There are four: Look Back with Love, Look Back with Mixed Feelings, Look Back with Astonishment, and Look Back with Gratitude. They are hard to find(and expensive when you do find them). They only when through a few printings but they are fascinating and well worth the read if you can get your hands on them.
Here are a few of her novels, the more well-known ones:
“Dodie Smith’s first novel transcends the oft-stodgy definition of “a classic” by being as brightly witty and adventuresome as it was when published nearly fifty years ago.” -Goodreads
An eccentric family in a crumbling castle, set against the beautiful English countryside, the Mortimers are the weirdest bunch of folks around, but they’re kind, smart, and willing to do anything to get the dad to write another novel. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
“Pongo and Missis had a lovely life. With their human owners, the Dearlys, to look after them, they lived in a comfortable home in London with their 15 adorable Dalmatian puppies, loved and admired by all. Especially the Dearlys’ neighbor Cruella de Vil, a fur-fancying fashion plate with designs on the Dalmatians’ spotted coats! So, when the puppies are stolen from the Dearly home, and even Scotland Yard is unable to find them, Pongo and Missis know they must take matters into their own paws!” -Goodreads
Yep, you read that right. She wrote The 101 Dalmatians and its sequel, Starlight Barking. Don’t get me started on how she was screwed over by a certain movie magic-making company, but she was the person who created Cruella de Vil and co. The sequel is weird, but it’s a great story. Not her best, to be honest, but it’s good.
“When Jane Minton arrives at Dome House as a secretary-housekeeper, she finds herself sharing the comfortable country home of four attractive young people. Their handsome widower father, Rupert Carrington, too occupied with his London business to see very much of them, merely provides for them generously and leaves them to cultivate their talents — which they energetically do. Richard, the eldest, is a composer; Clare, whose true talent (if it can be called that) has never disclosed itself, attempts to paint; Drew is collecting material for a novel to be set in the Edwardian era; and Merry, still at school, already works hard towards a stage career. Jane Minton, warmly welcomed into this happy household, feels her luck is too good to be true. And it is certainly too good to last. The delightful private world of Dome House is fated to break up.
It is Jane who learns from Rupert Carrington that he is in danger of prosectuion for fraud and must leave England. He asks her to break the news to his children — who must now fend completely for themselves — and do what she can to help. She is very willing to, for his sake as well as theirs, as she is greatly attracted by him. What happens then makes an engrossing and unpredicable story, for the Carringtons are not usual young people, and it is, perhaps, their own basic originality which draws to them unusual adventures, in which humor and more than a touch of strangeness are often inextricably blended.” -Goodreads
I LOVE THIS STORY TOO.
“During a summer festival in an English spa town Miles Quentin, a distinguished actor, and his devoted wife Jill, become friendly with the local member of Parliament, Geoffrey Thornton, and his young daughters, Robin and Kit. All these attractive, intelligent and fully occupied people are seemingly untroubled. But the surface of their lives is deceptive.
All, even the lively teenagers, have unusual problems which are only brought fully to light after the Quentins return to the London theatre world and the Thorntons to their Westminster house. Then the story becomes a far from conventional love story in which loyalty may prove more important than love; or it could be described as a story of different kinds of love. Few readers of its early sunny chapters will foresee its dramatic development, the outcome of which is uncertain until the very end.”
“London’s theatre world of the 1920’s provides a glittering backdrop for Mouse, an eighteen-year-old Lancashire girl intent on a stage career. She tells the story herself with the utmost frankness and with an authenticity which derives from Dodie Smith’s own wide experience as both actress and playwright.
Mouse never felt that her nickname fully suited her; tiny she might be, but timid never. Within a day of her arrival in town she had bluffed her way into an audition at a famous theatre, infuriated its forceful young stage director, amused its kind if quite amoral actor-manager, Rex Crossway, and finally landed not a part but a toehold as a junior secretary. From then on she was involved in the engrossing affairs of the Crossway Theatre.
She was also involved with her friends at the club where she lived — Molly, a baby-faced six-footer, and elegant, ambitious LIlian who was fated to clash disastrously with Mouse, though even then they could find something to laugh at together. And later there was Zelle, rich, generous, enigmatic, and responsible for an outing to a Suffolk village pageant which proved a turning point for them all.”-Goodreads
These are just a few of the wonderful works of Dodie Smith. She was a woman who was not afraid to include important topics (like adultery, homosexuality, shortcomings of the aristocracy, shortcomings of the literary world, politics, and so much more) in books that were considered “light reading”. She was also a woman who knew her mind. She was a suffragette, a war entertainer, and actress and some one who deserves more credit. She was a really great writer, maybe not one of the greats, but a great writer, nonetheless.