Claudia and David by Rose Franken ~ 1939. This edition: Sun Dial Press, 1940. Hardcover. 307 pages.
My rating on both of these: Withheld for the time being. I’m not quite sure if I found these appalling or charming. Both, really. But which one is the strongest response will have to wait until I’ve re-read these, and perhaps explored a little more of the Claudia saga. (I think I may just have revealed which way I’m leaning.)
This summer I acquired three of the Claudia novels – I believe there were something like eight in total – by Rose Franken, a highly successful American playwright and novelist. (An extended biography is here.)
I’m not sure what I was expecting – likely something fairly “deep”, as I had an idea that Franken was something of an “intellectual” writer – but it certainly wasn’t what I found.
These books – if the two I’ve just read are any indication; I set aside Young Claudia for future reference – are pure tweak-your-heartstrings sentimental tosh.
Our heroine Claudia is perilously close to being…hmm…how can I put it?….rather silly is fairly polite…but I could forgive her that because she was a young, young thing (just 17, or maybe 18) when she was matrimonially snapped up by the brusquely outspoken (and seven years older) rising young architect David.
Claudia has mild aspirations to go on the stage, but marriage to dashing and forceful David ultimately seems like a better idea. Who could resist being wooed by being constantly called a “young idiot”? Not our Claudia!
David has some manly notions regarding his teenage wife, including keeping her close to home – they may be struggling financially, but no wife of his is going out to work, because that would reflect on his ability to be the breadwinner. Who cares if she’s bored to tears and clawing at the wallpaper in her tiny apartment? A woman’s place is in the home, or at least his woman’s place is there, because David says so, dammit.
David, to be frank, is a bit of a jerk, even though he proves time and time again to have a heart of gold under his gruff exterior. (Uh-huh, he really does. Because Rose Franken tells us so, over and over and over.) He is constantly telling Claudia how dumb she is, and she agrees with him, and then silly little wifey comes up with some stunningly obvious solution to whatever the issue-of-the-chapter is, or has a brush with death, and David shows a glimpse of human emotion and then we’re off to the next episode. (Can you say “formula”, dear readers?)
Oh yeah, and David occasionally spanks Claudia, “hard enough to hurt”, and she likes it, because she realizes that she needs to be punished for daring to bruise David’s incredibly tender ego by having occasional ideas of her own. Argh.
Franken plays us like a piano, up and down the keyboard, tinkle-tinkle-tinkle, great big crescendo and then soft pause, and on to the next. These novels started out as story collections – Claudia first appeared in Redbook in the 1930s – and the structure is classic women’s-magazine-short-story, each chapter being a complete episode, arranged in chronological order with the same characters reappearing and new ones being added as we go along.
I haven’t really told you much about what actually happens in these absolutely fluffy light novels, and I’m not going to in any detail, because I think you can guess. Honeymoon period, quarrels, making up, financial difficulties, Great Big Breaks, life-threatening illnesses, babies (and life-threatening childbirth complications – Claudia walks the knife edge, because she’s always on the brink of dying, which gives David an opportunity to display that glimpse of human emotions and gruff tenderness referred to earlier), a little bit of mental and physical spousal abuse, servant issues, house issues, yadda yadda yadda.
But you know what? The saga is actually rather sweet, and occasionally quite funny, and horribly addictive – I absolutely gobbled these up.
I’m wondering if any of Rose Franken’s non-Claudia novels are a little deeper, because she’s a decent enough writer, and occasionally she whams the wifehood/motherhood thing right on the button.
I found a fun review of the Claudia books here, at Blue-Hearted Bookworm. Go take a look, because you’ll end up snorting with laughter, especially if you’ve already made the acquaintance of Claudia.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
I first discovered the Claudia novels (in one volume, The Claudia Omnibus) while browsing in my undergraduate library when I was, like Claudia, just 18. I stood there in the aisle and read for a while, then replaced the book. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm and I curled my (our?) lip contemptuously and thought: “What shit.” It was almost time for my next class, so I left the building.
Here’s the strange part: I was back in that same spot the very next day, surreptitiously enjoying another chapter! I’d read with an eye on the page and an eye on whoever might be walking by. I was in constant danger of being discovered; even back then, anyone who wanted to find me knew that the library was the perfect place to look…
I so get this, because it’s exactly how I felt. “What shit.” <Turns page to next installment.>
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 😉