Monday, September 05, 2011

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

All I ever wanted was to be Nancy Drew.  Anything else that I ever claimed I wanted, it always led back to Nancy Drew.  She was smart and confident and always did what was right.  Even when others doubted her, she never doubted herself.  She drove a cool car and she had a couple of fun girlfriends and a really nice boyfriend who respected her. 

Most of all, she never hesitated when following her instinct.  When she wanted something, she went after it, she didn't sit around and worry about all that might go wrong.  The fear of failure didn't exist in Nancy Drew.  Nancy Drew never failed.  If she did, in any way, mess up, she was able to fix it, again, without hesitation.  She never spent hours in front of the mirror, only to decide later that it was better to just stay home.  She never took the easy or the safe route.  She never worried so much about rejection that she eventually decided life would be simpler if she just didn't try.

Nancy was everything I wanted to be.  As a child, I devoured those books, one after another.  My friend, Mollie, and I, kept a list of the ones we'd read.  Couldn't get enough of those books.  I had a set at home that my aunt had given me, they were the Grossett & Dunlop version, with greyish mauve covers, and each book had two stories.  I loved those books so much.  Then I started reading the Case Files and kept reading them until I got to college. 

I've had this book in the stack of books by my bed for a long time, a few years, maybe.  But I was waiting for the right mood before I picked it up.  When I want to sink into a book, I usually want fiction.  But with this book, I'd read a bit, set it aside, read something else, and then return to it for a while.  That's the thing with nonfiction, there isn't the same need to find out what happens because usually, you already know.

I knew all about Nancy having multiple authors.  Nerd that I was, I remember having my mom order the research material about Carolyn Keene from Encyclopedia Britannica. 

What I loved about this book is the way it explained Nancy's creation and evolution alongside the women's rights movement.  This book isn't just the history of Nancy Drew, but also a very thorough explanation of the history of the women's movement toward independence.  Women want to be strong and independent and when it felt like the whole world was telling them it was wrong to want that, they had Nancy Drew to serve as an example.  They read these books as a child, only to become adults who are told they need to be submissive to their husbands and stay at home and take care of babies.  They weren't satisfied with this.  Was Nancy solely responsible for this?  Of course not, but she did play an important role.  I think the problem is that most of us leave Nancy behind as we get older. 

I will admit to feeling more than a little bit of sadness at reading this.  I kept thinking of the child I was so many years ago, reading those Nancy Drew books, and I thought of how disappointed she would be with the person I've become.  That same child who, when not reading, was sitting at a typewriter or a sketching out pictures.  I was going to change the world with my words and my drawings.  But I didn't grow up to be Nancy Drew.  I don't solve mysteries or make great discoveries.  No one is in the least affected by my words or my paintings.  Nancy would not be pleased.       

As I finished reading the book, I found myself thinking of all things I could do, or should do and yet, I know that inspiration will fade soon after I've returned the book to the shelf, and I'll just go back to wishing I could be Nancy Drew.

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