CELEBRATING 85 YEARS OF GIRL POWER

The Secret of the Old Clock 1930

The Secret of the Old Clock 1930

When I read my first Nancy Drew book in the 1970s, I didn’t know anything about title pages and checking the copyright date. All I knew was that I identified immediately with this smart brave teenage girl who didn’t wait around hoping other people would solve her problems. The story lines were so current that you’d have blown my mind if you had told me that Caroline Keene’s first Nancy Drew book, The Story of the Old Clock, was published in 1930.

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney 1949

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney 1949

Actually, Nancy Drew’s age still blows my mind, as does the fact that Caroline Keene never existed. The name is a pseudonym for all the authors who wrote Nancy Drew books at the instigation of Edward Stratemeyer, the James Patterson (or Barbara Cartland) story factory of his day. Isn’t it ironic that a man came up with the ‘counter-cultural’ concept of the girl hero who contradicted adults whilst squaring off against villains? Perhaps it was because he was a man that he had nothing to lose in helping create a bestselling series freed girls from Victorian ideas of what was right and proper?

The Secret of the Gold Pavilion 1959

The Secret of the Gold Pavilion 1959

Twenty two of the first 25 Nancy Drew titles were all written by Mildred Wirt Benson, who had Nancy getting into fights, driving a car, packing a gun and relying on herself to get out of tough situations. For all that, Nancy was a well-rounded character with a boyfriend, Ned, two besties, Bess and George and had a good relationship with her widowed father as well.

The Mystery of the 99 steps 1966

The Mystery of the 99 steps 1966

As Theordore Jefferson points out in his excellent article on TheMarySue about the influence Nancy Drew has had on women’s literature ever since, not everybody was ready for such a feisty character. The Hollywood movies of the 1940s gave Nancy just enough screen time to get into a fix and then sent her boyfriend in to rescue her. However, Mildred and Edward had set a trend that could not be denied and continues today in the form of feisty heroines like Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series.

The Clue of the Broken Locket is a Mildred Wirt Benson-penned Nancy Drew, but my other favourites all

The Mystery of the Glowing Eye 1974

The Mystery of the Glowing Eye 1974

seem to have been written by Harriet Adams: The Clue in the Old Stage Coach, The Mystery of the 99 Steps and The Clue in the Crossword Cipher– perhaps because they were written in the era I was reading them. When you think back, did you have a favourite Nancy Drew mystery?

The Secret in the Old Lace 1980

The Secret in the Old Lace 1980

PS: Edward Stratemeyer was a remarkably prolific author. If you would like to know what other old favourites of yours, he had a hand in, have a look at his Wikipedia biography.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Edward Stratemeyer had invented the Hardy Boys three years before, as well as other male sleuths, and wanted to do a female detective as well. Drew was not the first surname he had picked for her but that’s what it became.

    Boyfriend Ned only came along in book 7, and Nancy had a bestie called Helen before Bess and George.

    I was a member of RWA a few years back but have been a Nancy fan for 31 years and a member of the Nancy Drew Sleuths for about 10.

    Reply
  2. elizabethellencarter

     /  May 8, 2015

    Nancy Drew Mysteries were the first novels I read starting from about the age of 8. I devoured them and the greatest joy was going every fortnight to the book store to see if they had anymore titles I hadn’t read.

    Reply

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