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Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith – Memoir of an Edwardian Childhood

29th November, 2016

Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith

This is the first book in a series of four about the life of acclaimed children’s writer and playwright, Dodie Smith.


Look Back with Love is Dodie Smith’s memoir that talks about her formative years, up to the age of fourteen. The book chronicles an Edwardian childhood in the city of Manchester. The rest of the books in the series are Look Back with Mixed Feelings, Look Back with Astonishment and Look Back with Gratitude.

My introduction to Dodie Smith is through the animated version based on her novel, 101 Dalmations. After reading I Capture the Castle(a quirky classic) and greatly enjoying it, I was keen to read Dodie’s memoir. According to Smith’s biographer, Valerie Grove,  Cassandra, the protagonist in I Capture the Castle, is “pure Dodie.” Decades later, when she was ninety, Dodie told the London Observer: “Of all my books and plays I think I like Castle best. I wrote myself into Cassandra.” I had loved the character that Dodie Smith created. It was time to read the sketch of the creator and see if I could see the connections.

Dodie’s mother, Ella, was widowed when Dodie was only 18 months old and they moved to Old Trafford in Manchester to live with Ella’s parents (Furbers). They shared the house with  her unmarried siblings, Harold, Arthur, Madge, Bertha and Eddie. The Furber family was not rich, but the merriment in the house had no bounds. The collection of relatives laced with wit and eccentricity makes each page of Dodie’s existence a joyful experience.

Dodie and her mother lived in many houses by the time she was fourteen. I loved how articulate Dodie is in her descriptions of the different houses and the rooms that are close to her heart. She has a fondness for baths in the huge kitchen in Kingston house. The elders were allowed to take a bath every week while Dodie was allowed the luxury of a nightly bath. She says :”Above me hung the family washing, on a wooden rock that could be pulled up to the ceiling.” These baths in the kitchen felt like Cassandra’s  baths in the castle’s kitchen in I Capture the Castle. I immediately saw that when she breathed life into Cassandra Mortmain, she gave her a part of her own memories.

Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith

The family did not have much of wealth, especially after the grandfather lost his job at the company where he was working. But the family was adept in entertaining themselves. Look Back with Love pulls the reader to drawing room comedies where the family indulged in musical evenings and recitals. Dodie loved to put forth a performance, “Have I mentioned that I sang? And of course I also danced. I fear many children played, danced, sang and recited but I doubt if many of them could count on such ecstatic audiences as I could; nobody made much secret of the fact that I was a genius, but alas, it wore off with my fair hair.” Other methods for diversion included visiting Old Trafford Botanical Gardens, seaside outings, motor car trips and regular visits to the theatre. Also helpful to Dodie’s ambitions to have a career in theatre were her bachelor uncle’s involvement with amateur dramatics.

There are many anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book, about Dodie’s schooling and her friends as well. I love that Dodie does not focus on the lack of riches in her household. She tells the story of how they made the best of what they had got which ultimately makes it a “happy” read.  Here is a passage from the book about dancing –

dancing was an extra and my mother said it would be the ruin of her for such a large number of accessories were required. One needed an accordion pleated dress, at least fifteen yards wide, for the skirt dance (wretched children not possessing such a dress did not take the skirt dance and were looked at pityingly)”

It is a delight to read a book that talks about daily life in a household and the defining characteristics of the members in it, with no unexpected plot twists or literary symbolisms . This memoir spells warmth and reads like a fond conversation with a dear friend over tea. I would recommend this read to everyone who wants a small getaway from the new current releases. This book is a perfect, cosy read.

Final Verdict :

I would recommend the book to those who are craving for a happy read, full of anecdotes and brimming with the innocence of childhood.

About the Edition

I adore Slightly Foxed paperbacks (and hardbacks). The paper and binding is of the highest quality. It is a delight to read from the creamy pages in a pocket book that is the just the right size to carry around. Here is an interesting video uploaded by The Telegraph about the printing process in Slightly Foxed – Birth of a Book

PS: This would make a great Christmas gift.

Title : Look Back with Love
Author : Dodie Smith
Publisher : Slightly Foxed
Published : 2014 (Originally 1974)
Language : English
Pages : 271
Rating : 4/5

Much thanks to Slightly Foxed for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

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Have you read any books by Dodie Smith? Have you read her memoirs?

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Look Back with Love
This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. I have always been a little confused what order the “Look Back” books should be read in — thank you for clarifying for us! I (like most people) absolutely loved I Capture the Castle and have recently been reading a few of her other books (like The Town in Bloom). I will definitely read this set next. How fun to be able to see pieces of Cassandra in this memoir!

  2. This sounds delightful. I had very fond memories of ‘Castle’ from my teens, and read it again quite recently, probably with even more pleasure. I ‘m intrigued now to look into the autobios after your review here

  3. I’m not a big reader of memoirs (I usually have to be super-interested in the person in question), but this does sound delightful. I Capture the Castle is in my TBR, and I feel sure I’m going to enjoy it.

    1. Same here. Memoirs are usually not my favourite kind of a book. This would be a nice accompaniment to I Capture the Castle. Dodie’s childhood and how it has inspired the creation of Cassandra are pretty evident. And its a happy read too.

    1. I was fascinated by the video as well Naz. I think all the attention to detail really pays off in their finished product. It is small in size, sturdy and is perfect to fit in your coat pockets or handbag.

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