A to Z: Nancy Drew

N

Nancy Drew has been one of the most loved and most well-recognized female characters since her initial appearance in 1930. Unlike most of the girl characters–and most of the books–on this list, Nancy is a character that has been written and re-written by various ghostwriters as part of an ongoing series. The series kind-of ended 10 years ago, in 2004, but was re-vamped to becomeย Girl Detective; beginning in 1998, Her Interactive started publishing computer games based on the character.

Seventy-odd years of a character being written by different people and re-vamped a few times to shift with changing parts of culture makes her somewhat difficult to discuss, at least in a definable “this is what Nancy Drew is like” way. Certainly, her evolvement can be used to discuss changing American ideas of femininity (Nancy’s age shifts slightly over the years, and her appearance changes on the book covers to reflect updated ideas of fashion) and of race (in 1959, during one of the series’ biggest restructurings, much of the focus was on removing racial stereotypes—which was, arguably, partially successful).

Nancy is 16 (18 in the newer versions–this reflects the rising age of graduation in the States), and like many girl characters, she’s lost her mother. This of course allows her the agency to grow up early (prompted by her father, who like many fathers in girls’ literature, treats her like the woman of the home, almost like a surrogate wife)–and all of that is helped by their wealth.

Nancy has had chances to study psychology and to learn painting, French, boating, driving, shooting, swimming, sewing, cooking, riding, tennis and golf, dancing, first aid, and swimming. In short, she can do most anything…But with her mother at home, she would assuredly have been prevented from learning some of those things, and she would absolutely be prevented from doing some of those things, even if she’d been able to learn them (shooting, for instance, as well as golf, would probably fall by the wayside in favor of some household skill). Nancy is outspoken, more so in the initial run than later (an interesting change in itself), and she has a penchant for getting out of dangerous situations–a common trope in detective fiction.

But the biggest thing Nancy Drew gives us, aside from a long-running girl character who, though not without flaws, is strong and has served as role-model for generations of girls now, is a way of looking at cultural shifts in education, in class, in race, in style, and in femininity. Nancy is not just a character but a cultural icon, and as such she tells us about our culture.

And now, a short pictorial history, starting in the 1930’s and ending in the 1980’s/90’s era:

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20 Comments

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  1. No picks tonight. Just wanted to let you know I survived another day of this madness. My page is updated, posts are scheduled for tomorrow, and all is well ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Yah. You’re telling me. Never did get the one for tomorrow written, but I made it to Good Friday, so I think I’ll be fine.

        Have to go watch the little fella play baseball, but will be around later.

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  2. I loved those books! A long time ago, I had information on auditioning to write for the line but I don’t think it paid very well. I did audition to write for another fairly well-known book series that was ghostwritten (in the 90’s)…it was fun, but I wasn’t chosen. I couldn’t capture the voice of the author exactly, I guess!

    Visiting you from the A to Z challenge sign-up page. Great to meet you!

    Stephanie Faris, author
    30 Days of No Gossip
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

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    1. Hello, and glad you stopped by!

      I’ve never really thought much about ghostwriting, but I expect it would be some weird combination of freeing and constricting. I’m sad that the ND books came to an end, but all things must, I suppose. She was around for a long time. And I think Her Interactive still makes ND computer games.

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  3. I vaguely remember those as a kid in the 70’s. I didn’t know they were written after that.

    Did you ever check out the 70’s TV show, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries? It’s a riot. We downloaded a few episodes last year. It was so kitsch, it was great.

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    1. Yeah, they ran for a long time. It’s fun to watch culture change on book covers, and you can do that with the Nancy Drew stories.

      I haven’t, because I didn’t know that it existed, so thank you for that. I’m adding it to the TBW queue. lol

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  4. Another one of my favorites. I have some of the editions from the early 1940’s- had them during the 70’s actually and already by then the pages were yellow and crinkly with age. Loved her stories so much.

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    1. I didn’t read them a lot when I was younger, but I’ve been reading a lot of them lately because they’re such a long running girl series, and I’m working on female adolescence. It’s a neat way to watch culture change.

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  5. I only discovered that Nancy Drew was the original title of one of my favorite child series! In French, she is called Alice Roy (Alice being my middle name!) and I loved the books from this series. I read all the ones I could put my hands on either thanks to my parents or at my elementary school library. I still have them all in a box. I had heard the name “Nancy Drew” before but only made the connection like very recently!

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  6. I used to love “The Hardy Boys,” another series written by the same author as Nancy Drew (but a different pen name). I met Nancy through a paperback series where Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys joined forces – has anyone ever heard of these?

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    1. Oh, I’ve heard of those; I don’t think that I’ve ever read any of them, though. I remember having the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books around when I was a kid, and I think we had some of that run they did of them together. I think they were all created by Ed Stratemeyer as characters and ghostwritten under different pen names.

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