Publication: 1963, Corsair paperback edition 2012
Plot: Since her mother died, Jane Minton has sought live-in positions and has no permanent home so is full of anticipation for her new job as secretary/housekeeper to the attractive Rupert Carrington, a London businessman. When she arrives, luggage in hand, at the Carringtons’ country home she meets his children, three adults: Richard, a mid-20s aspiring composer; Clare, pretty and ineffective; Drew, determined to write a novel set in the Edwardian era; and 14-year-old Merry, a precocious teen planning to go on the stage. When disaster strikes, Rupert is exposed as an embezzler and flees the country, while the Carrington offspring and Jane must join forces to save their existence at Dome House.
Author: Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith (1896 – 1990) was an English novelist and playwright. Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians which became a Disney (ugh) movie and for I Capture the Castle which, amazingly, I never read until my Betsy-Tacy cohorts recommended it about 15 years ago. The title of this book apparently refers to a Coleridge poem.
Audience: Anglophiles; fans of authors like D. E. Stevenson, Nancy Mitford, Rebecca Shaw, Katie Fforde
What I liked: I enjoyed this from the first page: She did not believe in omens but instantly knew this was a good one: the afternoon sun, coming from behind the clouds, had turned the grey of the glass dome to a shimmer of gold. Seen from this hill top where she had got out of her car to reconnoiter – and there could be no doubt that was Dome House – the effect was quite dazzling and extremely cheering.
Think of all the wonderful books that begin with an intrepid heroine approaching a unique house, and you won’t be able to resist either, although this is not a gothic romance but is very funny, light English fiction. Jane is older than the traditional heroine, late 30s, but I enjoy older heroines now more than I did as a teen. The book follows the four Carrington offspring as they cope with their father’s disappearance and try to make their way in the world. It becomes more about their, albeit improbable, efforts and adventures than about Jane, who has become so fond of the siblings that she wants to stay with them and help them stay together.
Incidentally, it doesn’t sound very stressful to be the housekeeper for a large house with two maids (at least, pre-embezzlement when there are unlimited funds). The book is dated, in a charming way, and nowhere more than in its depiction of the beloved and faithful retainers who are taken to lunch every week by the Carrington siblings and join them to watch television at night.
What I disliked: While some readers complain that nothing really happens in this book, I disagree; however, I have always been a fan of riches-to-rags-type books. I will say that perhaps I have read too much chick lit and was hoping for a happier ending for the heroine, Jane! Nor did I care for the storyline/romantic interest of the eldest son. It is an unusual book but delightful.