A few months ago, my mother finally surrendered something I’d been coveting for years: her collection of Nancy Drew books. She’d been keeping them on her bookshelves, the orderly yellow spines immediately drawing the eye. I don’t know exactly why she gave them up after holding out on me for so long. But once she told me I could have them, I wouldn’t let her go back on her word.
Now, the Nancy Drew mysteries might not be exactly what you’d call classic enduring literature. I’m sure that reading them now would not hold the same mystique they once had. Owning them is purely sentimental. When I was younger, I would take a book, climb a tree and be up there for hours. Nancy was just one of the many characters who accompanied me; the others included Anne Shirley, White Fang and the Pevensies & their kin. Since I was the eldest of three girls, Nancy was my big sister: confidant, smart & unafraid.
A few years ago, out of that same sentimental spirit, I picked up a copy of Girl Sleuth by Melanie Rehak. It’s something of a strange bio. It chronicles the publishing work of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the creation of Nancy Drew by its founder and her long life in the hands of two authors: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams & Mildred Wirt Benson. It’s fascinating to read the different lives of Nancy’s two “mothers”, particularly how they balanced family life & a career as well as their differences in opinion over who Nancy Drew could be.
But, I think what was most poignant for me was in the closing chapter when Rehak reflects on the idea that Nancy Drew might not be as relevant to current generations of girls. After enjoying a heady revival with the women’s lib movement in the 70’s, Nancy’s influence was undercut by Judy Blume books, the rise of women in the workplace and more prominent female figures like Hillary Rodham Clinton. Of course, failed image revamps by new parent company Simon & Schuster didn’t help either. Women who grew up with Nancy didn’t want her to change & their daughters didn’t really know what to make of her.
With that said, I’ve decided to go back & reread the series, to see at least for myself if, underneath all the anachronisms & stilted prose, Nancy is still the same big sister I once idealized. Did her many creators really give her enough substance to make her a cultural icon, or was she just the product of her time & place? I’ll post my progress here & if there are any guy bloggers who read Hardy Boys, email me; we’ll talk cross-over. Enjoy!