She does not accept money, as did the Hardy Boys, but her well-established fame is a perquisite she can't deny. Beyond her infallible ability to judge character and reduce crooks to jelly, Nancy's defining qualities are her coolness and her independence. She never loses her composure in the face of crisis. Caught in a dark and watery tunnel in The Secret of the Forgotten City , Nancy does not panic even though she "knew she was in serious trouble.
Likewise the sleuth's calm practicality manifests itself in her reaction to the uncanny. In over seventy volumes she has been involved in an untold number of spooky confrontations, but never for a moment does she give in to the possibility that supernatural forces—forces she cannot triumph over—might be in operation. Eminently pragmatic, she pooh-poohs the fears and "overactive" imaginations of those around her. Searching an empty house on a night when the wind whispers dismally through the swaying boughs and loose shutters creak on their rusty hinges, the girl detective runs headlong into a skeleton, whose long, bony fingers brush against her throat.
Her reaction: "It's—it's nothing. Nothing but a skeleton. The ultimate effect of such sangfroid is to make Nancy Drew seem less—or more, possibly—than human. She is the premier example of what Arthur Svenson was talking about when he spoke of the Syndicate's " Ubermenschen. Bobbie Ann Mason has persuasively argued that at least two of Nancy's successors, Judy Bolton and Trixie Belden, are flesh-and-blood girls by comparison to the icy perfection of the blonde teen private eye.
Or shall we slay the wicked dragon—? A conventional ending in the Drew books has Nancy experiencing something very close to anomie when she wraps up her investigation. Put more positively, she yearns for her next mystery. At the end of one story a histrionic actor quotes Shakespeare's King John :.
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories - Wikiwand
Nancy Drew's independence is apparent in various spheres. For one, she seems to be above or beyond school. It is true that she does take summer vaca-tions—in a contemporary book, The Sinister Omen , she specifically takes a spring vacation in Fort Lau-derdale—but veteran readers of the series must ask, "vacation from what? This "growth" took place in the s and may have had something to do with alterations in driving laws. But for all intents and purposes she is free of such mundane occupations as going to school and in this way differs from the other series heroes and heroines under consideration.
She is not, however, completely free of adult "supervision," a word used loosely in this instance. She must do her detecting within the eye of the law. In the early volumes of the series, Nancy's relationship with local officials was as shaky as Frank and Joe Hardy's; the always Irish cops were of little assistance and sometimes hindered her. But in time Chief McGinnis and Nancy struck up a very good working relationship, to the point of becoming downright chummy.
In Forgotten City , they chat away on the telephone, the chief complimenting the girl at every turn of the conversation. Nancy's nuclear family arrangement, too, allows for maximum self-direction. She is not an orphan like Ruth Fielding and other forerunners in girls' series, but she might as well be when it comes to having free rein. Keene writes, "Left motherless at an early age [pinpointed at three in other books] Nancy had developed a fine sense of responsibility and more than earned her right to complete freedom.
Hannah, like Aunt Gertrude in the Hardy Boys series, spends most of her time cooking. Probably because she does not prepare meals for growing boys, Hannah Gruen's menus run less along the meat-and-potato lines—e. She does fret about Nancy's safety, but precisely because of her subservient status—she is the Drews' employee—she offers no real opposition.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate came to favor a nonnuclear familial arrangement in its series; many of the young heroes and especially heroines lived with an aunt, uncle, or guardian rather than parents. Nancy, to be sure, has one parent very much on the scene. Carson Drew, distinguished lawyer, not only channels cases to his daughter, as Fenton Hardy did to his sons; he also collaborates with her on investigations, seeks her counsel regarding his own work, and always pays attention and tribute to his talented offspring.
More important, he never tells her to stay out of trouble or treats her like a child.
The Nancy Drew Files
When the Drew series began, the idea of a generation gap was not a widespread notion. Indeed, it can be asked if the two Drews don't behave more like husband and wife than father and daughter. At the conclusion of Broken Locket there is a cozy scene: Nancy slips into her father's study where he relaxes in his lounging robe, snuggles down in a big chair, and rests her head on his shoulder. The two look into the fire and think of broken lockets and broken hearts. And this secure arrangement is locked up. Only once that I know of did another woman try to insinuate herself into the scene. A twenty-four-year-old platinum blond lawyer named Marty King entered the picture in The Mystery of the Glowing Eye , but in the end Nancy won again:.
The third area in which Nancy exercises utmost control and independence is the one that finally tripped up Ruth Fielding: relationships with the opposite sex of the same generation. By choice, she has been many times a bridesmaid but never a bride, and why should she be? Her life, as it stands, is a perfect blend of domestic harmony and thrilling mystery. Ned Nicker-son, her "special friend" since the beginning of the series, would like Nancy to see matters differently.
He periodically presses his case, but Nancy adroitly sidesteps his leading conversation—sometimes she even resorts to playing dumb. Somewhat surprisingly, this wonder-girl is not above girlish reaction when it comes to the subject of boys; her usual response to Ned's remarks is to flush crimson or blush to the roots of her hair.
Still, Nickerson, football star at Emerson University though he may be, has never been anything but Nancy's factotum. His stock role is to play Della Street to her Perry Mason. In contemporary English mysteries for girls, the teenage investigator has not a boyfriend but a dog as a companion. Nancy, too, has a canine friend; her terrier Togo has been with her since the s. And, at bottom, she has a puppy dog in Ned, who is ever faithful, obedient, affectionate, and secondary in status.
In Crumbling Wall , he is particularly inconspicuous, interacting with Nancy only by long-distance correspondence. Ned has gained stature in the history of the series. Carolyn Keene once wrote an essay about the se-ries—or at least her handwritten signature is printed at the end of the essay much as Betty Crocker signs her cake-mix boxes—and in it she admits that early on "Ned was an ineffectual partner, so I made him more virile and at times he rescues Nancy just in time from a near-fatal predicament.
But sexual interest or emotional involvement on her part is out of the question. Carolyn Keene's character simply avoids the issue. The lasting effect of Nancy Drew's all-encompassing independence is that she can be supremely active and mobile, freewheeling in a word. Always on the go, she merely stops in at home to refuel and collect late-breaking news about her cases from Carson Drew. Then she is off again in her car, or her motorboat, or her plane.
Thus the automobile is the ideal icon for Nancy, and her skillful manipulation of it, a fitting indication of her independence. In The Sign of the Twisted Candles the heroine displays the range of her automotive know-how. First she gets into trouble while driving during a summer storm: "the wheels, sending sheets of water fender-high, skidded sickeningly. Then she proceeds to diagnose the roadster's difficulty—"'Oh, pshaw! Interestingly, the style of Carolyn Keene's prose jibes beautifully with Nancy's active and mobile nature.
Keene wastes little space in description of people or events. She devotes more attention to description of setting. Thus the energy level of her novels is high; characters move quickly through episode after episode. A side effect of this emphasis on rapid, no-frills storytelling is that readers hardly know what Nancy looks like. As in the fairy tales, where princesses are "small" or "good" or "fair" and that is all, Nancy's looks are identified only by short, repeated phrases; her face, for example, is many times described as "not beautiful but interesting.
The most notable stylistic feature in Keene's writing, again, underscores Nancy's extraordinary level of activity. In an earlier chapter Keene's favorite grammatical construction, the introductory participial phrase, was labeled the "Nancy Drewster" because it is so predominant in this series. Here are a few examples from Crumbling Wall :. Closely pursued by the barking dogs, the three girls raced madly to the front wall of the estate. As the third sentence, with its additional phrase at the end, demonstrates especially well, this structure is one that allows the writer to fill her prose with active verbs.
The main verb "paused" notwithstanding, the sentence leaves the girls with little time to pause, reflect, or rest. Despite the frenetic energy of the plot and its heroine, a Nancy Drew novel quietly conveys an underlying solidity. Take Nancy's ability to judge character without fail, or the clear-cut depiction of villains as social outcasts or misfits in the River Heights milieu, or the essential security of the Drew household—all these elements bespeak a bedrock of firmly held beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, who is the right sort of person and who is not.
Nancy is a Brahmin in her society. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams once stated that were her fictional daughter to mature beyond eighteen she would go to "Wellesley, of course. Nancy is altruistic, always eager to help others through her sleuthing, but whose cause does she champion? Down-and-out aristocrats like the proud and cultured Marches in [ The Secret in the Old Attic , ] who by birth deserve to have their missing fortunes restored, their properties reclaimed. Conversely, the evildoers in this series, from the Topham family in the first title on, are social climbers out to insinuate themselves by false scheming into higher echelons of the perfectly acceptable status quo.
In the early years of the series, it has been well documented, Nancy Drew exhibited a distinct prejudice against ethnic and racial minorities—blacks, Jews, Italians, and Irish, most obviously. The value system inherent in the Drew books is nicely summed up by one of the most prevalent images in the series: the great house now in decay and overgrown by unruly shrubs and weeds. It is part of Nancy's role as detective to do the "landscaping" necessary to restore the fine old house to its former glory and its rightful owners, as she aims to do with Heath Castle in Crumbling Wall.
Thoughts of landscaping bring up the subject of setting in the Nancy Drew books. River Heights is to Nancy as Bayport is to the Hardys, a steady and supportive home base from which to operate. Like Frank and Joe, she has traveled out from her hometown increasingly since the s; in fact, she was off to New Orleans in in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall. But wherever she goes, River Heights is al-ways the starting block and the finishing line for her investigations, and it provides a stable frame of reference regarding Nancy's previous accomplishments and instilled values.
In this respect it functions like Alice's aboveground world in Lewis Carroll 's fantasy or Dorothy's home base, Kansas, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz —at the outset of the series River Heights is, by the way, placed in the Midwest, though later its location is less clear. Nancy has everything she wants in River Heights: security, independence, approbation, and mystery. She does not need a Wonderland or Emerald City; thus, more often than not there is no trip beyond her immediate surroundings.
Arthur Prager has gone so far as to compare River Heights with the land of Oz in terms of their common remoteness from the world readers live in: "like the land of Oz, Nancy Drew country is in another time dimension, untouched by the outside world. River Heights has always seemed a little "out of it" in the twentieth century, a place where teas and charmingly decorated drawing rooms matter. What is more, it inevitably strikes readers as a playground, an isolated fantasy world made to order for Nancy's constant amusement.
Why should she want to leave this world for Oz? As a backdrop for Nancy Drew's activities, then, River Heights is a significant aspect of Keene's formulaic mysteries. But it does not cast or create any particular atmosphere for the mysterious action. The books do have atmosphere. The threatening mood of the Gothic novel laces the adventure in almost every title. Adjectives like "eerie," "weird," "creepy," and "spooky" crop up everywhere in the writing, and publicists have chosen the word "spinetingling" to describe the series in their blurbs on the back covers of the books.
Nancy's matter-of-fact reaction to skeletons, glowing eyes, and potential ghosts becalms the anxious, horrific atmosphere on many occasions. Still, the Gothic trappings favored by Keene, especially when coupled with magical clues, fresh footprints, and other accoutrements of the mystery genre, do contribute to the suspense.
Together, the formulaic ingredients of Gothic and detective fiction leave Nancy perpetually caught up in a cycle of chasing or being chased , confinement in scary circumstances, and escape by means of strenuous struggle. This seesaw pattern of pursuit, confinement, and release, in turn, wrings out readers' emotions by exciting alternating feelings of tension and exhilaration.
Exactly what are the Gothic elements in the Nancy Drew series? Nancy once in a while goes treasure- or secret-hunting in a cave the one at Bald Head Cliff in [ The Mystery of the Tolling Bell , ] for example or an underground reservoir see The Mysterious Mannequin , but she does not rival the Hardy Boys in this regard. Her preferred place of confinement, where she spends a substantial period of time in most of her mysteries, is the cobwebbed attic, the dank cellar, the castle tower, the secret chamber, the hidden staircase, the locked closet—in sum, the stock haunts of the Gothic novel. And like the motherless heroines of the Gothics, Nancy normally enters old houses alone in search of clues to the activities or motives of usually male figures.
Other Gothic conditions prevail in the Drew books. Ominous voices murmur "N-a-a-ancy" or warn her away from her search, ghostly footsteps are heard in other rooms. Once the young detective is pursued by a driverless red car; another time she is chased by a puppet across a moonlit lawn. Clammy hands and bony fingers regularly brush against her face and fumble for her throat. Finally, the weather around River Heights seems especially stormy, mainly after dark. Stories of domestic detection have a long history among female writers and readers; and this is not surprising given the fact that household settings were the norm in nineteenth-century women's fiction.
It was only a small departure to introduce the mysterious crime into the daily routine of these "interior" tales, as did Mrs. Nor was Carolyn Keene the originator of the hybrid Gothic mystery. American predecessor Mary Roberts Rinehart had begun to combine sensational Gothic ingredients with mystery plots nearly a quarter of a century before Nancy Drew solved The Secret of the Old Clock. Keene's second book, The Hidden Staircase , written in just five years after Rinehart's, makes use of similar Gothic iconography, right down to the name of the decaying estate.
Here is called Twin Oaks. The appearance of an adolescent heroine in a Gothic tale is something else that is not unique to the Nancy Drew series. Aubert and her suitor Chevalier Valancourt. The adolescent girl is a natural character in stories that are fairly transparent explorations of the mysteries of sexual awakening and its attendant psychological fears. Tales of confinement in gloomy castles owned by dark but gentlemanly strangers are certainly related to the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, the classic eighteenth-century text of which first appeared in a girls' magazine.
These are Nancy Drew's antecedents, but it cannot be forgotten that the Stratemeyer series is Gothicized detection from which all prospect of growing up and sexual discovery has been removed and that psychological distress will never be known by the outgoing, no-nonsense girl detective. A Nancy Drew novel is to the truly terrifying Gothic tale as Walt Disney 's whitewashed visualization of the fairy-tale Snow White is to the earlier and violent story of jealousy and maturation collected by the Grimms. Nancy has transcended terror as surely as she has overcome the need for money, for boys, for anything she does not already have.
Living in the nearly fantastic land of River Heights, she is hermetically sealed off from change, growth, failure. And her chosen avocation—private, nonprofit investigation—is a curiously unrealistic endeavor itself. Very few girls, or boys either for that matter, really grow up to become detectives.
As a symbolic figure, however, the young female private eye is everything girl readers could ask for, combining "all the energy and purposefulness of the working girl and none of her restrictions. Nancy Drew, in summary, is a fantasy figure who is a worthy successor to the Stratemeyer Syndicate's first female superstar, Ruth Fielding. But Ruth, like so many of the career girl detectives in series books popular during and after World War II , finally got caught in the middle of real-life dilemmas: she was divided between, on the one hand, being an independent career woman and sometimes sleuth and, on the other, moving along the course traditionally taken by women to marriage and children.
The tomboy or the lady? For Nancy Drew, there is no such dilemma, though the opposition is represented in her series by the detective's two friends, boyish George Fayne and plump and giggly Bess Marvin. As do much popular film and fiction, the Nancy Drew novels offer an escapist fantasy, and they allay their readers' real ambitions and doubts with a vision of a mythic heroine who is immensely talented and virtually omnipotent.
There is, ultimately, an interesting irony underlying Nancy Drew and the success of her series. It would seem that the transition from the heroines of nineteenth-century domestic fiction—so limited in their choices—to the supremely confident and independent girl investigator represents an expansion of possibilities regarding both literary characterization and its effects on readers. Nancy is not socially confined to houses or domestic situations as were the females in sentimental fiction that prevailed, in girls' books anyway, on into the twentieth century, as demonstrated by Pollyanna or Rebecca of Sunny-brook Farm.
Nor is she trapped physically or psychologically within quarters. This was the fate of the orphaned heroines who moved into rich men's houses in the Gothic novels that replaced sentimental fiction and have remained popular with young and mature female readers throughout Nancy Drew's reign—for example, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca , written in and turned into a superbly terrifying Gothic film by Alfred Hitchcock two years later.
Yet … it is precisely because she is so far removed from the little qualms and the big frustrations and decisions facing real girls and women that she cannot be considered a helpful fictional model of successful womanhood, the fact that she has been praised in the pages of Ms. Like Carroll's Alice books, the Nancy Drew novels depict a resourceful and imaginative heroine in action in a place where special rules operate—namely River Heights, where crooks always give in to determined girls.
But neither Carolyn Keene nor Lewis Carroll takes issue with the social, moral, and gender values dominant at the time she or he wrote. Alice and her readers must return to Victorian England and become proper ladies. Nancy gets to stay in her playground indefinitely, but readers must move on. To what? If we extrapolate from the cultural assumptions behind Keene's series, Nancy Drew would, as Mason first observed, 39 grow up to be like Mrs.
Bobbsey in another Stratemeyer series—pretty, demure, completely forgettable. She is saved from that fate, but there is nothing in her series to make us believe that its creators would have things any other way for the vast young female readership that devours the books.
Of course, only tiresome adult rereaders of Nancy Drew will raise such questions, the same kind of critic who would pity the Hardy Boys' fate of being confined to endless reruns of their adventures. Girls hooked on the series will continue to revel in traveling to River Heights, where life is at once safely predictable and excitingly mysterious and where criminal activity is both intriguing and easily dealt with.
Series by cover
For preteens, unsure of their footing in their own surroundings, Nancy's ability to triumph over wicked, grown men and emerge from dangerous encounters unscathed is as reassuring and confidence-inspiring as it is thrilling. These encounters, and their easy outcomes, may not mirror those that will face readers, but the teen detective's quick thinking and fancy footwork go beyond providing an afternoon's fun. They do suggest, in bold and fantastic relief, patterns of active exploration of the world and the questions it presents.
As for the matter of getting "hooked" on the series, readers don't stay under the spell for long. Children's librarians tell me that Nancy's appeal evaporates somewhere around the fifth year of elementary schooling. Then the girls who fantasized with Nancy Drew will seek literary pleasure and encouragement elsewhere—in the adolescent novel, in adult popular fiction, in historical fiction and biography, in the classics, in true fantasy literature.
Author Frances Fitzgerald confesses to shucking her Nancy Drews around age twelve for the Gothic governess and her demon lover. They complement each other. One is an Enlightenment child—rational, secure, active. The other, a Romantic—sensuous, vulnerable, ruled by passion.
Recent titles are published by Simon and Schuster in their Wanderer Books line. Some libraries, however, do not let the series circulate. While researching this chapter at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I was told by one of the children's librarians that they did not circulate books "written by committee. On this point see Joseph F. Instead, the young women in the book work off extra energy through constant eating. This aspect of the series is considered fully by James P. I have found two suggestions of Oz actually written into the series. First, Nancy's dog is named Togo—Dorothy's was Toto.
Frank Baum. In their other book, Craig and Cadogan compare the emotional effect of reading a Nancy Drew book to "the feeling of being driven along in a very fast car. Dramatic incidents are over almost before the reader is aware of what is happening. This version was written by Madame Leprince de Beaumont and appeared in her Magasin des enfans in London in ; the English translation, The Young Misses Magazine , was published in January , pp.
Regarding what readers pick up after Nancy Drew, see G. Robert Carlsen, Books and the Teenage Reader , rev. New York: Harper and Row, , chap. Trabuco Canyon, Calif. Caprio dismisses the more modern versions of Nancy Drew as a "watered-down" shadow of the original character. As many readers already know, there is Nancy Drew, and then … there is Nancy Drew. The Nancy of is very different from the Nancy of , and there are a few other Nancys in between. Our subject is Nancy Drew's essence, and its effect on readers for sixty years. Behind this essence is a long and interesting publishing history, a subject beyond the scope of this book.
However, we do need to take a short behind-the-scenes look at the creation and the promotion of this famous girl sleuth, so we can be clear about which Nancys we're considering, and which, if any, affect us….
However, because all thirty-four of Nancy's Era One and Era Two titles were completely rewritten during Era Three, the total number of books in her original canon comes to ninety. Nancy Drew was a daughter of the east coast Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded at the turn of the century by Edward Stratemeyer, creator of over series of juvenile books.
The first Nancy Drew is a daring and very elegant sixteen-year old of Depression days, although neither Depression nor other current events are more than hinted at in her stories, as it was house policy to avoid references which might date its books. Her true creator was award-winning Iowa and Ohio journalist, Mildred Augustine Wirt, who ghosted for Stratemeyer under several pseudonyms, including Carolyn Keene, and also had many juvenile titles published under her own name.
Let us take a look at how Mildred Wirt presented Nancy in her initial appearance of April, Lawyer Carson Drew is reading the paper and admiring the rich glow his study lamp makes upon Nancy's curly golden bob. They discuss an eccentric old man's missing will, thus laying out the mystery's groundwork.
Next morning at breakfast, the Drews make a date for 'luncheon,' a date they hope will further their investigation into Josiah Crowley's mysterious legacy. Carson Drew leaves for his law office and Nancy goes to the kitchen to consult with the maid, Hannah Gruen, about the "work of the day. Although only sixteen, Nancy was unusually capable, and under her skillful direction everything ran smoothly in the Drew household. On the death of her mother six years before, [Later books say Mrs. Drew died when Nancy was three—Ed. The responsibility of the household might have weighed heavily upon Nancy, but she was the type of girl who is capable of accomplishing a great many things in a comparatively short length of time.
She enjoyed sports of all kinds and she found time for clubs and parties. In school Nancy had been very popular and she boasted many friends. People declared that she had a way of taking life very seriously without impressing one as being the least bit serious herself …. Leaving the house, she went to the garage where she kept her automobile.
It was a shining new blue roadster, the birthday gift of her father … She drove swiftly down the boulevard, and upon reaching the more congested streets, wormed her way skillfully through heavy traffic. Wirt's Nancy is a vivacious and capable girl. After reading a few more chapters, we see that she has amazing freedom for her time, and that she expresses her feelings with passion. It is revealed early on, too, that Nancy is a champion of the underdog, as she takes the side of a frazzled shopgirl who is subjected to harassment by the uppity nouveau riche Topham sisters. An American heroine and role model is born!
Nancy Drew's name was chosen by Edward Stratem-eyer himself as a feminine counterpart to the earlier evocative surnames given the heroes of his male series: Rover Boys, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, Don Sturdy. Think of it: 'Drew,' the past tense of 'draw,' connotes competition and power, for we draw a bow, or draw on an opponent, and maybe even draw and quarter him, or we draw a salary. And 'drew' is also about attraction and pulling something toward oneself, as in times when we drew fire or water or an audience or a breath. We even speak of how honey draws flies. Similarly, drawing a wagon or drawing blood is also about pulling something; drawing money or interest pulls something out of a bank; a chimney draws or pulls a fire upwards; we pull or draw information out of someone.
All these expressions speak to the young reader of power. But we can also say "he drew the curtains," and "she drew up her will. Yet we can 'draw away' too, recoiling in horror perhaps, or simply 'withdraw' to recoup. The word 'drew' can have a note of grace also, for it can be about sketching a picture.
Nancy, incidentally, eventually … attends art school. So, Nancy Drew bears a name with many meanings. It is a rich name, with reference to several arenas of human life, and even to contradictory activities. It's not an adjective like 'Swift' or 'Hardy,' but a verb—an action word, and yet in the past tense, an action completed. The nuances suggested by Nancy's name are not accidental. It was chosen for a purpose by her creator, and has affected her readers subliminally for sixty years. Let's allow this exploration of her name to sit and steep for a bit, and return to it later.
You may ask: "Does all this really matter? Betty Gordon, Billie Bradley, and other young women were featured in series of the s. Their appearance parallels the rise in popularity of adult detective fiction. The days of the s and World War II focused on career-girl detectives, including Connie Blair from the world of advertising, nurse Cherry Ames, and flight attendant Vicki Barr, all hot on the trail of very catchable crooks. Younger teens like Trixie Belden joined the ranks. Later, there would be more daughters, the girl sleuths of recent decades.
But none of these bright, inquiring young women has equalled Nancy Drew either in longevity or number of adventures, or in their impact upon American women and men. Era One of Nancy-time spans the twenty years of the s and 40s, and consists of the first twenty-six books of the series. All but four of these were written by Wirt, with increasingly heavy in-house editing as the period moved along.
Much of Nancy's success is undoubtedly due to Tandy's cover art, which often included the male villain of the story. A sub-category of Tandy covers features hidden villains. A sneaky perpetrator might peer through a window at an unsuspecting Nancy, or spy on her from a secret panel. Young readers loved these pictures then, and adult collectors eagerly seek them today.
Here is a memory from Edith, who grew up in the s in the countryside of the Blue Ridge foothills in central Virginia. Like many adults her age, she recalls the impact the Nancy Drew covers made on her life.
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When I was a girl, my grandmother used to clean and cook for a family in the big brick house up on the hill, and when I got big enough to help—seven or eight, I guess—she let me come along with her when I wasn't in school. Well, the old folks who lived there had a granddaughter my age, who used to visit each summer, and when I finished my little chores my Grannie would let me go play with her.
I can't recall this girl's name, but I'll never forget the year she brought her collection of Nancy Drews with her. We read them over and over and acted them out, and we even pored over the Sears, Roebuck catalogue trying to pick out the clothes for ourselves that looked like the beautiful ones Nancy wore in the pictures on the covers. Two little girls dreaming of what we might become! It may seem funny that a black girl like me would use WASPy Nancy Drew as a model, but she was the only exciting young female I had ever come across.
I remember how we both raised an eyebrow over the parts that put down blacks, and I was glad to hear that these were cleaned up later. I really believed I could be like Nancy, just as much as my playmate did, and today I'm a social worker at a university near my old home. Sometimes I wonder if my old friend ever lived out our girlhood dreams as well as I did. I always think of Nancy Drew with the deepest sisterly fondness. Era Two of the series, —56, gave us Transitional Nancy. Wirt and Tandy withdrew, and various writers were given assignments to continue the post-war adventures of the famous amateur detective.
Her creator, now Mildred Wirt Benson, returned for one of the eight volumes of this period. Mystery has clouded much of Nancy Drew's authorship, as the Stratemeyer Syndicate demanded pledges of secrecy from their ghostwriters—or 'half-ghosts' as the contract writers were sometimes called, since the plot outlines given them were often very detailed.
This Nancy of the early 50s is a little more frenetic, her pace accelerated as if to match the pace of that new competitor for young people's attention, television. Although eighteen to allow her to drive legally , her new illustrator, Bill Gillies, draws her younger. She looks like a high school bobbysoxer. Tandy's svelte and confident miss who sleuths in high-heels and sometimes hat and gloves, is replaced by a Nancy in Peter Pan collar and page-boy hairdo, often gasping and gaping at the latest underhanded goings-on. Nancy Drew dustjackets are gone, and the new yellow volumes have picture covers.
A major improvement at this time was the elimination of the many ethnic stereotypes of the earlier stories 7 and some levelling of their hierarchical class-structure. Thus, Hannah Gruen evolves from subservient elderly maid deferring to "Miss Nancy," to "The Drews' lovely housekeeper," a mother-replacement and friend.
However, in the new adventures of Nancy Drew, from 35 on, plus the revisions of all the preceding titles, the pace is even more precipitous than before. Whereas in 1 we are told that 'days slip by,' now events stumble over events, with Nancy having five chapters fewer in which to catch her breath, much less enjoy the trappings of gracious living which surround her. The Nancy of this time is not unlike Barbie and, also, she is akin to the vapid, baby-doll movie heroines of the 50s and early 60s Tammy, Gidget, et al. All reflect the regression in the status of women during the decades after World War II.
Adams had been involved in editing Nancy's adventures since the s, and eventually claimed authorship of the entire series. She made no secret of her belief that the earlier Nancy was "too bold and bossy, too positive," 8 and set about to make her more gentle, send her off to church regularly, and generally dispel Nancy's larger-than-life mystique. Carson Drew, who early in Nancy's career provided his daughter with a revolver, now became a protective dad who forbids her to go sleuthing alone—and most of the time, Nancy obeys him.
At this stage of her history, her hair color having deepened to strawberry blonde and then titian, Nancy's illustrators pictured her as younger than ever—appropriately, for her reading audience also grew younger. The original Nancy Drew stories were advertised for year-olds; by the s she was being aimed at readers aged Mason notes that "the illustrations of the Nancy Drew series show the evolution of Nancy from an independent career woman to a fluffy kitten child.
There is a sense of incongruity in this less mature Nancy and her increasingly grown-up adventures.
Series: Nancy Drew
Along with 50s artists Gillies and Rudy Nappi, whose Drew covers began in and continued through Era Three, many uncredited artists came and went from the series. There had been unsuccessful efforts to woo back Russell Tandy for the revisions begun in , but the visual creator of Nancy Drew would not work for a hundred dollars a book.
In the last five years of Era Three, interior line drawings of Nancy and her friends deteriorated into caricature stick-figures, as if to say these stories were but parodies of the original Nancy Drews. Even though the heroine of titles 35 through 56 and the revisions of numbers is a watered-down Nancy, the famous girl detective is still recognizable. The biblical scholars would probably call her quasicanonical, or 'deutero-Nancy.
The Nancy Drews of Era Four—the early s—degenerated quickly into ground-out plots featuring Nancy as a quasi-Gothic novel heroine. The stories of this period, still produced by Mrs. Adams and her colleagues, are even shorter than those that came before, and reflect their versions of the 'in' trends of the Woodstock Generation.
These stories make Nancy's earlier hunch-filled and coincidence-ridden adventures seem gems of Euclidean rationalism. She is beset by everything from flying saucers to vampires. In The Bluebeard Room , a sapphire-eyed Nancy becomes a rock star's 'bird,' and flushes out a Cornish witch coven. Many fans of all ages lost interest in what once had been a favorite heroine, not bothering to read or collect the 80s paperbacks. Nancy Drew was written off as another girls' series heroine about to breathe her last. When I was ten, I read a few Nancy Drews that my older sister had dumped in the attic, and they were pretty good.
Then in the drug store I saw some new ones.
The perfect plot
It was so stupid and she acted like such a jerk. I promised myself I'd never read another story about Nancy Drew. Ginny was not the only reader who felt this way. David Gates, writing in Newsweek finds this Nancy Drew as much a product of her times as earlier Nancys:. However, with hindsight we can see now that the twenty-two titles of Era Four formed an era of Shape-Shifting Nancy. Though the tales lost much, a redeeming feature was added by her new publisher: a charming visual Nancy Drew, created by Ruth Sanderson and Paul Frame, artists whose illustrations are worthy of the original heroine.
The Nancy Drew Files , begun in and marketed aggressively at the rate of ten titles a year, siphoned off the romance strain that the girl sleuth had acquired over the decade, and packaged it for the pre-teen pa-perback romance market. In these 'more sophisticated' mysteries i. One journalist calls this Nancy "a professional sex tease … a Dynasty bimbo. In Era Five, Restored Nancy, began with title 79, continuing the series without the globe-trotting and chest-heaving which had overtaken it.
The picture covers of this latest era bear the slogan, 'All New! Athletic George and Bess—still slightly plump—are at hand, with Carson Drew and Hannah Gruen for back-up, just as in the old days. Ned—and romance—make cameo appearances, but are sidelined. Ned's anger and frustration at being kept on hold for over half a century have been relegated to The Nancy Drew Files. Details of the calorie-filled, cholesterol-rich menus from Hannah's kitchen, so dear to the pre-teen heart, have returned.
Everyday life in Nancy's home town is just as peril-filled as in the s, as rocks with notes strapped to them fly through the Drews' dining-room window during dinner, and shifty-eyed villains aim their guns at Nancy and Co. Although the contemporary paperbacks which continue the regular Nancy Drew series don't feel as substantial as the old 'thick blues,' the sleuth herself is more like Mildred Wirt Benson's original heroine than any since Some things do change, however.
Ethnic surnames are now given to the good guys e. Nurse Santos and Lieutenant Chin and the three girls are sometimes called 'women. The Stratemeyer dictum against current events, which made the earlier books so timeless, is gone. Today's Nancy is slangy and trendy. She advises Bess to "catch some rays," and has an adventure with a rock deejay who airs Bruce Springsteen.
Nancy even has been known to break into a suspect's apartment with a credit card! Young readers at the end of the twentieth century may well be confused by the two sets of Nancy Drews in the bookstores, each featuring its distinctive heroine. Perhaps they assume the Nancy of the Files to be a visitor from another planet, or an alien clone with the same name as the original heroine. Drawn by a variety of artists, Ms. Drew as she's now styled often changes in appearance from book to book.
On some covers, she is a rugged private investigator, and on others, the lady-like Nancy of yesteryear. Her hair color changes frequently. What is important is that the Nancy Drew series still thrives and is on the job, having survived and recovered from a near-death experience.
Readers interested in the development of Nancy Drew—her creators, their working limitations, business demands which shaped Nancy, and the distribution and promotion which supported her—will find much useful material in Carol Billman's The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. More details and a complete Nancy Drew bibliography can be found in David Farah's detailed elaboration of Nancy's publishing history, 19 and articles from two collectors' magazines: Yellowback Library , 20 and The Whispered Watchword. So much for Nancy Drew's outer life. Our book is an analysis of her inner life—and more importantly, our own.
As Nancy solves her th mystery and moves toward a new millennium, she remains a popular culture icon. She is now the heroine of computer games as well as books and T. These ingredients are in our souls too. She has mirrored them to us for decades. Mildred Wirt Benson rightly says:. Geoffrey S. Lapin's meticulous research on Mildred A. He expands this article in "Carolyn Keene—Pseud. At this writing, Mrs. Benson in her mids is an active newspaperwoman at the Toledo Blade.
Harriet Adams, Edward Stratemeyer's daughter, said of her father, "He thought juvenile trends followed adult book trends by about 5 years. This article includes the first bibliography of children's book illustrations by Russell H. Tandy, listing fifteen series. Tandy's 26 entries in the Nancy Drew series make it his largest body of juvenile series artwork for young people's books. Nancy Drew "extended hope to readers i. This was the same message Horatio Alger gave an earlier generation of boys born poor, notes MacLeod. Information on Nancy Drew's authorship is from Lapin, op.
The author acknowledges the changes in the Drew revisions and finds this series no more guilty of racial stereotyping than any other of its day. Adam's Nancy. Adams was an entirely different person—she was more cultured and refined. I was a rough and tumble newspaper person who had to earn a living and who was out in the world. My Nancy was making her way in life and trying to compete and have fun along the way. We just had two different Nancys.
Benson also feels that the revamping of Nancy begun in was "a very poor job" in an interview with Mona Gable, Los Angeles Times , Aug. My thanks to Melanie Knight, co-editor of the Society of Phantom Friends' newsletter, The Whispered Watchword , for recognizing this shift in the late s Nancy Drews and reporting it in the April issue.
Also, my appreciation to writer Kate Emburg, president of the Society, for her similar comments in the Dec. The oral gratification in Nancy Drew is noted by Mason, op. Billman, op. Smithsonian 22 7 Oct. Monthly page Yellowback Library , P. Box , Des Moines , IA Editor: Gil O'Gara. Deals with all juvenile series. Focuses on girls' series books, old and new. Queries about availability can be sent to the publisher see note 12, Ch. I have no information as to whether these were produced. By , the character of Nancy Drew had all the trappings of a cultural icon.
Books featuring Nancy's adventures had been lining the shelves of retail stores and girls' bedrooms for 45 years. Literally millions of copies had been sold. Nancy had been the subject of four feature films. She had starred in her own Parker Brothers "Mystery Game. She had appeared as a prestigious "Madame Alexander" doll. She was also beginning to be the subject of scholarly consideration.
Like many feminist critics of the s, Mason perceptively explored the issue of the "role model" and detailed the cultural lessons about female behavior that Nancy's character inculcated. Although she praised Nancy's original independence and adventurous spirit, Mason also criticized what Nancy had become. She is "just too straight," wrote Mason. And the message in her stories is the same as it always was: to give little girls the illusion that they could have their cake and eat it, too" As part of her study, Mason issued a challenge to the Nancy Drew of the future:.
Nancy Drew had liberated readers from that tyranny [of "giggling girl" heroines], but who is to liberate new readers from the established complacency of the Nancy Drew series? Interestingly, Mason had delivered her challenge at the very time that Nancy Drew was about to be offered several new chances to meet it. Within two years after Mason's book, a Nancy Drew television series had not only refocused Nancy through the prism of Hollywood but had also expanded the scope of her influence through a burst of merchandising.
There were Nancy Drew lunch boxes and jigsaw puzzles, Halloween costumes and greeting card kits, secret code books, mystery mazes, crossword puzzles, and even a "Private Eye Diary" complete with lock and key. By the mids, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which created Nancy, had been sold and its principals had died or moved on. For the most part, however, she has not taken this opportunity. My examination of recent Nancy Drew titles shows that the character continues to teach conflicting lessons about gender and retains the essential "straightness" and "complacency" that were present even in the fairly radical early volumes of the series.
Yet the books' continuing popularity 2 suggests that young readers do not feel the need to be "liberated" from Nancy's "established complacency. If Nancy Drew has, in fact, fossilized over time she has, to an extent and if her books present disturbing pictures of class and gender they did and do , then why has her popularity remained?
The answer lies, at least in part, in the very contradictions and paradoxes that Bobbie Ann Mason cites. As Mason writes, "Nancy gave us the conventional and the revolutionary in one compact image" But to Mason, the suggestion that a girl can have her cake and eat it too is an illusion, one that should be replaced with a reality that presumably would demonstrate to readers that one cannot attain independence while remaining Daddy's dependent or become personally liberated while remaining enslaved to gender and class stereotypes.
Yet, to dispel the illusions or "improve" the lessons would destroy the quiddity of the series, for it is precisely such contradictions that are the core of Nancy's appeal and that offer the clearest insights into our culture. Nancy Drew is a powerful cultural icon because of, not despite, the paradoxical nature of the lessons she teaches. These lessons have remained fairly constant because the Nancy Drew series has changed little in any substantive way since its inception in Aside from the cosmetic changes necessary to bring clothes, cars, and slang up to date, the stories have seen only four significant developments over the years.
First, in the first four or five volumes, Nancy Drew is feistier, more human, and more down to earth than in later books. She feels panic; she uses sarcasm and slang; she is outspoken in her dislikes; she is sometimes unreasonable. After these very early volumes, Nancy becomes more of a paragon. Second, in the late s, the new titles were shortened by an average of 40 pages. As a result, these new books move forward at breakneck pace and have skimpier characterizations; much less description; and fewer, if any, subplots. Third, in , the Stratemeyer Syndicate began revising the earlier titles, editing out offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes and shortening the texts.
The earlier books had rarely, if ever, focused on specifically adolescent problems. Far from altering the dynamics of the series, these changes have all tended to strengthen the mythic power of Nancy and to emphasize her most appealing if unrealistic message—that one can, in fact, have one's cake and eat it too. For over 60 years, the Nancy Drew series has told readers that they can have the benefits of both dependence and independence without the drawbacks, that they can help the disadvantaged and remain successful capitalists, that they can be both elitist and democratic, that they can be both child and adult, and that they can be both "liberated" women and "Daddys' little girls.
These messages grow first from Nancy's character. As most critics point out, Nancy Drew is a nearly perfect heroine. In Nancy's Mysterious Letter , the narrator notes that Nancy's father, the famous lawyer Carson Drew, "often said that she was a more helpful partner to him in his work than any man he could pick from the legal talent of the country" Keene Nancy has no qualms about pitting her ideas against those of adult professionals—and she is always taken seriously. Even the criminals know that in Nancy they have met their match.
Swindler Felix Raybolt, for instance, backs down in front of Nancy's challenge because "something warned him that he was not dealing with a girl who could be bluffed" Keene, Clue in the Diary There is virtually no task to which Nancy is not equal. In her first adventure alone, The Secret of the Old Clock , year-old Nancy can repair motorboats, fix flat tires, maneuver her car on slick roads during dangerous thunderstorms, administer first aid , and offer psychological diagnoses. After all, the reader is told, she had "studied psychology in school" . These cookies help us understand user behavior within our services.
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