The popular 1940 novel “Claudia and David” by Rose Franken deals with episodes in a young woman’s life in the ‘40s as she searches for her voice and identity so it was somewhat subversive in a time of oppressive paternalism. On the surface it is about the trials and tribulations of modern marriage, but it also gives a frightening glimpse at the attitudes, behavior codes and prejudices of the 1940s.
I couldn’t put it down once I got into “Claudia and David” as I continue my study of ‘40s books and movies.
This was one in a series of “Claudia” books by Franken and was read by many women including my mother . It must have made a lasting impression on Mom because it was partly responsible for how my sister Claudia got her name. The book was made into a movie in 1946 and was a sequel to the original “Claudia” movie.
Claudia Naughton is the central character and the husband character, David, is never fully developed. “Like the person you love, that’s marriage, and it’s exciting,” says David. Otherwise, he is either sexy and loving or vain, rude, abusive and narrow minded reducing Claudia to tears. In brighter moments there is a bit of escapism for the average reader in that Claudia has a full-time live in maid and accompanies her successful architect husband on a transcontinental flight to Hollywood where she buys an $800 dress which women in that time could only dream about. She also drags the unwilling David to a seance which he dismisses as bunk.
Despite leading a life less ordinary, Claudia confesses that her marriage is less than ideal. She complains that she is “stagnating” and would like to be like “women who function with a job” so she could be treated like a human being. David is quite dismissive at hearing this and she never mentions it again. When the author touches on a defining moment one of the characters gets sick and the plot abruptly shifts.
One of the more disturbing interludes in the book for me is when David discovers that their six year old son Bobby can’t make an acceptable fist to defend himself . David opines that the boy has a “streak of the sissy” and this is not acceptable since he won’t be good at skating or other sports. Claudia to the rescue: She teaches the boy how to skate and he impresses Dad. The subversive sissy crisis is averted and David voices a familiar theme: “Be a man. Stand on your own two feet.”
A crisis befalls the otherwise happy Naughtons when Bertha, the German maid whose standard response is “ach”, leaves. Two weeks without a maid is hell, Claudia and David state. At this moment we are treated to prevailing racism when Claudia interviews women for the mother’s helper job. A “mammoth Negress reeking of perfume” applies, says Claudia, and the Naughtons say the job has been filled which is a lie.
Women were examining their roles in print in 1940s. In a humorous memoir, “The Egg and I”, Betty Macdonald describes her ill advised first marriage Her life as a child bide on a broken-down chicken farm in rural Washington State was made into a successful movie that spawned the Ma and Pa Kettle characters that were a cash cow for Universal-International Pictures in the 1950s. Macdonald never offers an opinion on the marriage but she steers us in the right direction.