Dress as Fairy Gold: The Danger of Fairy Tale Tropes in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.
Conference contribution, 2020
Rose Mortmain in Dodie Smith’s novel I Capture the Castle (1948) believes that clothing holds out the promise to transform her not only from a penurious young woman into a wealthy wife, but also to transport her into a fairy tale. I Capture the Castle presents clothing as a powerful force for women, as it helps Rose secure the love of wealthy Simon Cotton. While Rose’s use of clothing allows her to embody a Cinderella narrative of poor girl beloved by rich man, her realization that she does not love Simon renders her fairy tale into a melodrama. In this novel, clothes perform the paradoxical work of, on the one hand, helping create a version of Rose that is vividly original in the eyes of her suitor Simon while, on the other hand, showing how her choices are as manufactured and clichéd as tired fairy tales. By invoking fairy tale motifs only to reject them, Smith’s novel reinforces the nearly magical abilities of dress to change a woman’s status while simultaneously reminding its young audience of the emotional unoriginality of the fairy tale genre. This presentation discusses how the intersection of fairy tale and clothing emphasizes the danger of women following the banal paths that society constructs for them. I Capture the Castle initially constructs both fashion and fairy tales as comfortable and familiar. Yet the analysis of three of Rose’s garments in particular shows how Dodie Smith’s novel acknowledges the power of the fairy tale even as it rebukes the unoriginality and danger of fairy tale tropes as patterns for young women’s behavior.