Have you read: Nancy Drew thrilled generations
November 29, 2005
“Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her” by Melanie Rehak
Wanted: Intrepid girl sleuth. Successful candidate will be perpetually 16 , have red-gold hair, and be sensible, clever and attractive. Fashionable wardrobe, sports car, and a boyfriend called “Ned” are assets. Successful applicant will answer to the name of Nancy Drew.
Were you really afraid of the dark? Or, was that just ruse to get mother to leave a light on in the hall so you could read the newest “Nancy Drew” novel after bedtime? Innumerable girls for several generations were devoted fans of Nancy, and they followed her adventures from their beginning in September 1929 as the creation of Edward Stratemeyer. Nancy became one of the best-selling features of all time in children’s literature. Return, then, to those thrilling days of yesteryear and learn the truth about Nancy Drew as you revel in “Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the women who created her” by Melanie Rehak.
By the time he thought of “Nancy Drew,” Edward Stratemeyer already was a millionaire and legend in juvenile publishing, having created those staples of the children’s shelf, “The Bobbsey Twins” and “The Hardy Boys.” Who could imagine that Nancy would be adored by generations of little girls and become an idol of feminists, although she never would have thought of marching for her rights. While her appearance as a movie character in the 1930s and as a television feature in the 1970s were unsuccessful, readers were loyal to her throughout the decades and the slightest change in her person or wardrobe were noticed and remarked upon by loyal fans.
It was not Stratemeyer, himself, who brought his character to life though. After several false starts in naming her, he sent off a memo to Grosset & Dunlap, his longtime publisher. Stratemeyer proposed “an up-to-date American girl at her best: bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy.” His sense of her life and her personality were flawless and, knowing a good thing when they saw it, the publishers accepted the proposal on the strength of his memo. Thereafter, it was another of Stratemeyer’s inventions, “Carolyn Keene,” who carried out the work of actually writing the novels.
The first “Carolyn Keene” was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, a journalism graduate of the University of Iowa. Harriet Adams, Stratemeyer’s daughter, inherited the company known as Stratemeyer Syndicate upon his death in 1930 and succeeded Benson as “Carolyn Keene” in writing “Nancy Drew” in the mid-1950s. While the stories were formulaic, the twists and turns were secondary; the plots went from the atmospheric yarns of the early years to a more action-packed, streamlined plot, but it was the character of the heroine that kept her readers coming back for more. Although few remember the plot of “The Hidden Staircase” or “The Whispering Statue,” Nancy Drew remains a part of the ideal American girlhood. Her secrets inspired the writers of her stories.
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In the 50 years since the first generation read “Nancy Drew,” hardly has a year gone by that someone, somewhere hasn’t attested to the power of the teen sleuth. Indeed, popular mystery writer Sara Paretsky wrote a tribute called “Keeping Nancy Drew Alive.”
Although the details of her surroundings changed with the times, Nancy taught girls to think for themselves, to get to the truth, and to be good friends.
-Russell Long is a sales associate at Neighbors Bookstore.