A Day at Dodie Smith's home

Steve and I went to visit Dodie Smith's Literary Executor, who lives in her home in Finchingfield.   Steve had not been able to come to the plaque unveiling and so we were kindly invited down to watch a film about Dodie's life and have lunch, talk about our hopes for the show and listen to stories about her life.  It was a really fascinating and exciting day!  The film about her life was excellent and it was wonderful to actually see her on film at last.  Her home, The Barretts, is a large and extremely pretty thatched cottage, sitting outside the exquisite village of Finchingfield.

It was clear how much Dodie must have missed this beautiful part of Essex, while she lived in America and wrote I Capture the Castle.   While she was in America, the West End theatre manager and producer Binkie Beaumont, went to live at the Barretts.  He was the most famous theatre empresario of the time and produced many of her plays.

Walking up the lane to the house from Finchingfield brought home to me the sense of unworldliness that she must have experienced in that part of England, after the hurly burly of life in London - which she translates into the early parts of Cassandra's diary.  Finchingfield is the perfect English village - with its windmill, duck pond and little cottages bursting with lupins and monks hood, nestled round the village green.

We were shown a painting of Wingfield Castle, with the old house built into the remains of the castellated Medieval castle walls, the tower and the moat.  This had been her inspiration for Cassandra's castle.  I had always wondered what the significance of setting the book in 1934 had been - when it was written in the 1940's.  We were told that 1934 had been the year she had moved into her home at The Barretts, and so can only presume that this special date was connected to her life there.

At the end of the day we were presented with copies of Dodie's books - The Town in Bloom for me and The Girl in the Candlelit Bath for Steve.  We returned to London on the train, leaving Dodie's retreat far behind, but feeling sure we would be back there one day.


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