Capturing the Castle.

I was struck by Anatoly Vorobey’s post on Dodie Smith’s well-known novel I Capture the Castle (which I will have to read — he calls it замечательный ‘wonderful, remarkable’). He says that the title, which at first seems straightforward, is anything but:

At first glance, it simply means “I’m taking over the castle.” But when you read the book itself, you notice that Cassandra [the teenage girl who’s writing the diary that forms the text of the novel] often uses capture with a different meaning in her diary, when she says that with her diary entries she hopes to “capture” the characters of her relatives, the atmosphere of life in the castle, etc. It’s like when they say that a photographer or artist “captured” a moment, a mood, a facial feature.

It gradually becomes clear that the title I Capture The Castle is meant in this sense. At the same time, it is interesting that the author does not impose this on the reader. Firstly, for a native speaker, the title, until you read the book itself, is clearly read as “I capture [in the usual sense] the castle”; another reading does not come to mind (I believe). Secondly, the title is not repeated within the text. If you don’t pay attention to the word capture, you might think that something metaphorical is meant by “capturing.” But if you pay attention to the “capture” in the text, and think about the fact that according to the plot, by the end of the novel the heroine does not “capture” the castle even in a figurative sense (does not become the main person in it, for example), then there is no doubt.

He is certainly right about the “native speaker” issue; it never would have entered my mind that capture was used in the sense he explains. He then goes on to say that he doesn’t know how to render the title in Russian: “Я ухватываю/охватываю/схватываю/ловлю/ замок” all sound wrong. The official translation is “Я захватываю замок,” but that uses the expected but incorrect sense. Translations in other languages avoid the issue: Le Château de Cassandra, Ho un castello nel cuore, Spiel im Sommer. A fascinating problem!


  1. Stu Clayton says

    Spiel im Sommer

    HULK SMASH (as DM once remarked to my complaint about German distributors banalizing the titles of movies)

  2. “Capture the Castle” sounds like a reference to some stock phrase. This, maybe?

  3. Nice find! Yes, it must be a (deliberately misleading) reference to that.

  4. I don’t see any stock phrase, I just see a book title “Nursery friends from France”…

  5. The link takes me to page 176 and a song about capturing the castle.

  6. Does this link work for you?

  7. My first thought was about chess…

  8. Does this link work for you?

    Thanks @Hat, yes. (Y’s original link was unhelpful, as @Hans says. No page 176 despite what the url alleges. Perhaps one needs membership of G’Books?)

  9. The latest publication year for full view on Google Books is 1928 (95ya) for US readers and 1899 elsewhere; that book is 1927. One service the Internet Archive provides is to republish US-full-view Google scans for global readers, presumably after some more thorough copyright checks than Google’s crude 1899 cut-off.

    Was that French nursery rhyme well enough known to Smith’s target readership? It rings no bells for me.

  10. @LH: Thanks, that link works.

  11. Was that French nursery rhyme well enough known to Smith’s target readership?

    Doesn’t really matter. All that counts is that she herself knew it — she might have just leafed through the book at a store and happened on it — and liked the phrase. I doubt she would have cared whether readers recognized it.

  12. you can obtain a different kind of wordplay if you replace “capture” with “take”. Take for example, a castle. Возьмём замок.

  13. I think a working solution would be to simply translate the title as is (я захватываю замок) and then generously use in texts verbs like охватить, ухватить (and захватить) instead of more elegant поймать/уловить.

  14. How would that work? Avva says “я захватываю замок” doesn’t carry the required meaning, and no amount of verbs using the same root will fix that.

  15. No, it does not, but it originayted* in English (and Russian, just with a different verb) as a transparent metaphor.

    So hopefully when reader notices enough verbs with хватить, she will realise that “capture” in the title is not literal.

    The problem is that verbs ухватить (“ты верно ухватил (or уловил) мою мысль”) and охватить (“охватить взглядом”, “роман охватывает промежуток времени (or череду событий) от…. до…”) are used somewhat differently than поймать/уловить.

    * perhaps -y- got inot there because some of the text in Russian:)

    PS. There is also захватить as in захватить [целиком] в кадр(е) – somewhat similar to охватить (if охватить were used here it would be кадром) – but it is mostly photography.

  16. All that counts is that she herself knew it

    Well, OK, The suggestion is plausible, but you seem more confident than I am that it’s correct.

  17. Oh, I’m not at all confident that it’s correct — all I’m saying is that if it comes from the French song, it doesn’t matter whether the song was widely known.

  18. PlasticPaddy says
    ” That accounts for the queer sports you see among the kids. One of them is king of the barbary, where one party captures a ” castle ” made of the other children holding their hands together.”

  19. That seems even more plausible as a source!

  20. “I’m the King of the Castle” (Susan Hill, 1970) and “King of the Hill” (Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, 1997) may have synonymous eponymous children’s games

  21. jack morava says

    Indeed. As a fellow Texan I recall `King of the Hill’ and `Capture the Castle’ as common kid’s games… perhaps a `Scots-Irish’ borderer Appalachian inheritance. [I aspirate my w’s whenever possible.]

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    There are no circumstances in which it is impossible. It is simply necessary to possess the Whill to Aspiration.

  23. One must aspire to aspirate!

  24. You mean asphirhe tho asphirhathe?

  25. Hwhere there’s a hwill there’s a hway.

  26. “Chommoda” dicebat, si quando “commoda” vellet
    dicere, et “insidias” Arrius “hinsidias”…

  27. David Marjanović says

    …It just dawns on me that pronouncing that second h would ruin the meter; it would make -us a long syllable where a short one is needed. In other words, the hexameter erases the evidence.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Na(h): h is ignored anyway in Latin scansion, even though posh folk still pronounced it (if not always in the right places.)

    [Cf Aeneid I 632 tecta, simul divom templis indicit honorem, dactyl bolded; 634: viginti tauros, magnor(um) horrentia centum]

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    To say nothing of the monstr(um) horrend(um) ingens informe, cui lumen ademptum.

  30. Bathrobe says

    I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    Is that you, Ulysses?

  32. David Marjanović says

    h is ignored anyway in Latin scansion

    I know; but ignoring it here completely eliminates the difference between insidias and hinsidias. In a performance of this poem, the listeners would only have the context (chommoda) to draw the inference from. Did it circulate mainly in writing?

    ingens informe

    inform(e) ingens, right?

  33. In a performance of this poem, the listeners would only have the context (chommoda) to draw the inference from.

    You’re implying they couldn’t hear the aspiration, but that seems unlikely.

  34. David Marjanović says

    I’m implying it was pronounced in chommoda, but not in hinsidias, when the poem was performed, because pronouncing the latter would have been against the convention and would have ruined the meter.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    It wouldn’t have affected the meter either way. Even when pronounced, /h/ was ignored for metrical purposes, as the examples from Virgil show. One presumes that Virgil did pronounce his h’s (Augustine is still banging on about this as a feature of posh pronunciation four centuries later.)

    inform(e) ingens, right?

    Yup. Good catch. (My mangled version doesn’t scan, either. So much for my finding Virgil memorable …)

  36. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences. Las recuerdo (yo no tengo derecho a pronunciar ese verbo sagrado, sólo un hombre en la tierra tuvo derecho y ese hombre ha muerto)… I can’t recall all the details, that is. If I could, I would have no experiences, only memories. And I might have died in aromatic pain at 19.

  37. What DE said. And in this of all poems it wouldn’t have made any sense to fail to pronounce the h-.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Even when pronounced, /h/ was ignored for metrical purposes

    Ah, so, an artificial convention like allowing ö, ü to rhyme with e, i in German. Fair enough; its origin would have been quite similar.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    There seems to be frustratingly little firm evidence for how the Romans actually read poetry: not even for something as fundamental as whether the verse stress overrode the natural word stress. (It doesn’t help that Latin grammarians simply copied/calqued the Greek terms for pitch accent when describing the Latin stress accent: what they do say about stress can’t always be taken at face value.)

    It’s conceivable in principle, I guess, that /h/ was conventionally actually realised as zero in reading verse, but it seems unlikely in view of the low social status of h-lessness and the high status of verse using Greek metres. Such a convention would make more sense of the elision of final vowels before initial /h/: but then, even the dropping of word-final vowels before unequivocally vowel-initial words has been held by some not to have reflected actual pronunciation. On the other hand, it’s easy enough to imagine an actual /h/-realised-as-[h] not “making position” without phonetic implausibility. For that, at least, there are plenty of analogies and parallels.

    In fact, this very poem of Catullus is (when you think of it) good evidence that /h/ was not conventionally realised as zero in reading verse. Unless, of course, that was part of the joke …

  40. Allan from Iowa says

    Ok now I have to look up all these books to see which ones I have read:

    * I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

    * I’m the King of the Castle (Susan Hill)

    * We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson)

  41. Stu Clayton says

    Castle and Dalmations are winging their way from Blackwell’s to me as I write. I see that I haven’t read Hatter’s Castle, though I did read many of Cronin’s other novels decades ago.

  42. David Marjanović says

    There seems to be frustratingly little firm evidence for how the Romans actually read poetry: not even for something as fundamental as whether the verse stress overrode the natural word stress.

    I find it impossible to read Roman poetry without letting the original stresses disappear completely – and in a language where stress isn’t phonemic this shouldn’t be a problem.

    In FYLOSC music, stress is sometimes ignored as well. It happens that the same word gets stressed differently when it occurs twice in a row.

    It is known (to Wikipedia) that, in Ancient Greek verse set to music, the tones of the stressed syllables were to some extent preserved in the tune. That way, no information was actually lost when the loudness moved to wherever it emerged as a byproduct of the meter. When Roman poets imported the hexameter wholesale, maybe they did lose information. Northern Chinese music ignores the tones and loses information, possibly because of all the neighboring toneless languages.

    Though actually, if stress was associated with a consistent pitch, that pitch might not have been lost. In the less melodious kinds of Hungarian and the more (!) melodious kinds of Finnish, as far as I’ve noticed, stressed = first syllables always get a high pitch and unstressed ones always a low pitch. I don’t know how to search for hexametric poems in Hungarian – they supposedly exist in large numbers. – But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to assume Latin was anywhere near that monotonous; rather the opposite.

    German lost its unstressed long vowels at least a thousand years ago. A few centuries later, the remaining unstressed non-final long syllables attracted the stress, so that the second syllable is now (mostly) stressed in native words like Hornisse, Forelle, Holunder, lebendig. And then this Christmas song was composed. Every second line sounds really odd, with long stressed reduced vowels:

    aus einer Wurzel zart
    von Jesse kam die Art

    There is a (20th-century?) update to the tune that simply shortens most of the lengths (without changing any pitches) and makes everything sound as expected:


    It has not caught on. Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen remains a systematic mismatch of stress + length, as it also remains the last occurrence of the 3pl simple past sungen (otherwise sangen) and one of the more egregious accumulations of apocope in places where it is kept far away from the modern standard. Maybe Latin poetry felt similar once Ennius was through with it.

  43. H’Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren

    ‘Forelle’ in the Schubert Lied seems to me weirdly stressed. But makes for a great ‘lumpy’ rhythm in the String Quartet.

  44. David Marjanović says

    H’Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren

    I don’t understand.

    ‘Forelle’ in the Schubert Lied seems to me weirdly stressed.

    Consistently on the second syllable, as usual.

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