Friday, 9 September 2011

Dear Dodie


It takes a good biography to drag me away from my beloved novels and I'm pleased to say that this is a very good biography. It's not speculative or gushing or overly academic.

It follows Dodie's life from adored only child to flamboyant but untalented actress to extrovert saleswoman at Heals furniture store to successful playwright and novelist. Along the way she has an affair with her boss at Heals, marries Alex who is seven years her junior, moves to America during the war years because her husband is a pacifist and forms lifelong friendships with renowned actors, playwrights and directors.

And of course in 1934 she was given her first Dalmatian puppy, Pongo, the first in a succession of energetic, lovable (and destructive!) Dalmatians who inspired her most famous book.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on I Capture the Castle written when she was living in exile in America and homesick for England. Interestingly, she believed that Cassandra represented her girlhood self but when her ex-lover read it he thought that Topaz was very like Dodie.

There are some lovely anecdotes. One New Year's Eve, her husband went to bed early so Dodie crossed her Dalmatian's paws and sang Old Lang Syne with her dog!

Valerie Grove's portrayal of Dodie Smith as an extrovert with a generous heart who, more than anything, wanted to write and to write well is a must-read. Of course, I now want to re-read I Capture the Castle.

21 comments:

Cornflower said...

I read that biography a few years ago and enjoyed it very much. I hadn't read I Capture the Castle then, but as I have now, perhaps I should re-visit that section of the book.

Cath said...

This sounds like one I should keep an eye out for at the library. Will add it to the list.

Eva said...

Ohh: I'll have to read this! I love I Capture the Castle so much. :D

Sunday Taylor said...

Sounds wonderful! I want to read this, and then go back and reread I Capture the Castle. Sound like she led a very interesting life.

melissa said...

This is wonderful to hear about....Castle is one of my very favorites. :) Thanks so much for sharing this!

callmemadam said...

I enjoyed this book, too and thought it shed a lot of light on the writing of I Capture the Castle. Dodie didn't come over as very likable, but she certainly had an interesting life.

Penny said...

Oh, no! Just when I'd made (another) resolution not to get any more books! This looks fascinating! I loved 'I Capture the Castle'. And anything with dogs in it... I suppose I should thank you for your interesting review...

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Sounds like a perfect gift for an avid reader, be it oneself or a friend.

lifeonthecutoff said...

This sounds like a fascinating read that I will be on the lookout for. Much thanks.

Darlene said...

Thanks for highlighting this! I won't hesitate to pick up a copy if I come across one while in London.

Melwyk said...

I didn't even know about this biography...but I am definitely searching it out now. I loved I Capture the Castle and think this would be such a great read. I was never a huge fan of 101 Dalmatians (I'm not really a dog person) but have read one of her obscure plays that was actually very entertaining. Have to check this out!

StuckInABook said...

I remember so very little about this book.. but I do remember discovering I already had one of her plays, but without knowing it was hers, since it was under the name C L Anthony.

whisperinggums said...

I capture the castle is one of those childhood treasures isn't it? I'd love to read a biography of the author --- whether I will ever find the time is another thing but I'm glad to know that if I do this one is worthwhile.

Cathy at PotterJotter said...

Takes me back - how many times did we read Dalmations to our kids when they were little, and then we had to listen to the audio book on long journeys too. Wonderful stuff.

debbie bailey said...

I've read I Capture The Castle twice and seen the movie twice. I'd like to watch it again. Love it!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I haven't read I Capture the Castle yet, but I've heard so many good things about it. I've read biographies that said things like 'the author did this on May 15, 1952, blah blah blah.' Dear Dodie feels like it has a more personal touch.

Nan said...

Oh, this sounds great! I do love those dalmations, and the castle.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

This sounds lovely. i adored I Capture The Castle, and just for that, I believe I should read this book.

I want to read 101 Dalmatians as well.

Vintage Reading said...

Karen, I was fascinated by the account of Dodie writing and re-writing I Capture the Castle until it was perfect.

Cath, I tried to get it from the library before I bought it but it was not available. Shame!

Eva, it is a great book and the section on ICTC is wonderful.

Sunday, I loved Dodie's determination, she was not blessed with beauty or wealth at birth but just pursued her dream to write well.

Melissa, well worth reading!

Callmemadam, she certainly dominated her husband but he seemed to enjoy it! I liked her humour.

Penny, you must read this - I would like to read your review of it. You know you want to ....!

Joan, I buy books as gifts on a one for you, two for me, basis!

lifeonthecutoff, one of my best reads this year! Highly recommended.

Darlene, I'm amazed to have picked it up in London. Thought it was out of print.

Melwyk, yes Dodie's career as a playwright was very interesting. She was famous for her plays long before she wrote novels. I didn't think I was a dog person (I have a cat!) but I actually became fascinated with dalmatians as a breed while reading this.

Vintage Reading said...

Stuckinabook, yes I think she wrote under another name briefly when she felt that she was out of fashion as a playwright. This book was one of my favourites of the year.

whisperinggums, yes ICTC is charming and the chapter in this book 'Capturing the Castle' is fascinating if you know and love the novel. That's the trouble with book blogging - so many books so little time!

Cathy, I've never actually read 101Dalmatians. As an artist you would probably enjoy the account of Dodie finding an illustrator for the novel (twin sisters) and specifying that she wanted the capital letters of each chapter embellished.

Debbie, I enjoyed the film of ICTC, too. The actress who played Cassandra was perfect!

Darlyn, yes I'm fussy about my biogs, too. If they don't ring true I chuck them across the room!

Nan, having read this I am now fascinated by dalmatians as a breed. Charely, Dodie's last dalmatian died heartbroken three weeks after she did.

anothercookie, I'd like to read 101 Dalmatians, too. I think I know it from the films but I've never read the text.

A Bookish Space said...

This sounds like a really facsinating biography. I love reading literary biographies! I read I Capture the Castle last year really wanting to fall in love with it. Alas Cassandra's voice left me cold. I think I would have loved if I had read it in my teenage years.