Nancy Drew Books Discussion (Oct/Nov 1996)

Query From Kara Anderson anderskb@stolaf.edu 30 Oct 1996

I am currently doing some research about the fictional character Nancy Drew, as written about under the pseudonym "Carolyn Keene." I am trying to get the stories of women who grew up reading the original Nancy Drew stories as they came out in the 1930s. I am trying to understand the reader reaction at that time to the books. I am particularly interested in the response of minority group members. How did they respond to the Nancy Drew series which generally played on racial and ethnic stereotypes, or made all the characters white? I would like the response of all women who read and responded strongly (one way or another) to the Nancy Drew books of the 1930s. Thank you.

Responses:

>From Genevieve G. McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 01 Nov 1996

See Carolyn Stewart Dyer's Rediscovering Nancy Drew which includes moving recollections of reactions from older and minority women--and much more.

>From Amy Brunner abrunner@knox.edu 01 Nov 1996

You might want to contact the writer Mabel Maney. She recently wrote a spoof of the Nancy Drew series called Nancy Clue. I am unsure of her age so the time frame may be off. The names of the books are The Not So Nice Nurse, The Good For Nothing Girlfriend, and The Ghost in the Closet.

>From Kimberly Clark kc0004@jove.unt.acs.edu 01 Nov 1996

I didn't read the Nancy Drew books in the 1930s but I did grow up on the original stories during the late 1970s. Nancy inspired me to be adventuresome and inquisitive. Through those stories I learned it was okay to seek out mysteries. I even solved one mystery in elementary school. To this day I credit Nancy Drew as giving me a love of reading (yes, mysteries are still my favorite) and a thirst for knowledge. I never thought that being smart was stupid and I always knew it was okay to ask questions even if the answers wouldn't be easy to hear.

I'm now in graduate school working on my masters in counselling. Thanks to my mom encouraging me to read and Nancy encouraging me to discover my love of mysteries, I've never once regretted being a smart and confident woman able to solve any mystery that comes my way.

>From Anita Goodstein
mgoodste@seraph1.sewanee.edu 01 Nov 1996

Dear Kara: I am a woman who was born in 1929 and grew up in the depression. I ADORED Nancy Drew. Though she was clearly a wasp and I am Jewish, it never occurred to me that I could not be as bold, as INDEPENDENT, and as intelligent as she. She was a role model for exactly those attributes. I confess to longing at one point to be an orphan because the girls from the orphanage who went to school with me had access to the complete set of Nancy Drews! I would very much like to hear your final summing up.

>From Barbara M. Freeman freeman@ccs.carleton.ca 04 Nov 1996

I was born in the late '40s but had access to the original Nancy Drews my mother and aunts read because my grandmother kept them in a huge steamer trunk in her basement along with all the other children's books. She had nine kids so there were a lot of them. This was in St. John, Newfoundland, which was a bit of a backwater in those days. We had libraries and book stores, of course, but why bother buying when we had this huge collection of our very own. I was first introduced to nancy Drew in Granny's house and spent hours reading there and at home. In fact, I can date my "bookworm" reading tendencies by my introduction to the Nancy Drew series at the age of nine, although we were always read to at bedtime as young children, usually by my Dad.

I liked Nancy but was partial to "George"---I was a tomboy, too. I love mysteries to this day and have never had a problem enjoying reading about strong women and girls. My impression is that they have softened Nancy up considerably lately. I have a young friend who is 10 or so and my partner and I like to give her the original Nancy Drews when we find them in second hand bookstores--although we do sometimes have to explain things like Nancy's "roadster"---just because Nancy seemed to be a stronger character in the older versions.

>From Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com 04 Nov 1996

I'm assuming that you already know that the Drew series, as well as several others popular at that time were created by a man, and as the series became more popular he wrote the basic sketches and farmed out the details to various writers on and off his staff...some female. I was more disappointed when I found out there was no "Carolyn Keene", than finding out there was no tooth fairy. I was determined to be an author...and "carolyn Keene" was one of the few women's names I saw with regularity.

As for me, I received Nancy Drew books for every occasion at our house, at least in my early years (8-10). I wanted a dad just like Nancy's...to replace the alcoholic, monstrously abusive father I had...but short of that, I just read and re-read the books. Personally, I liked Nancy's girlfriend, George, in the series. I thought she was more independent than Nancy. Nancy always had to answer to her father (albeit a "safe" father) and a boyfriend.

I don't know how liberating the books were for me, but they certainly provided an "escape" for a couple years or so...along with countless other books. I'm sure you already know, as well, that the Drew books are a very hot item with book collectors, esp. the original 1930s series, although the books are hardly scarce, which keeps the price down. I just sold a set of the 1960s version to a woman who wanted them for her granddaughter. In spite of the stereotypical gender/racial roles, people seem to be eager to keep the books in circulation. Best wishes on your research.

>From Barbara Molony bmolony@suacc.scu.edu 07 Nov 1996

I grew up in the 1950s, and I LOVED Nancy Drew. I devoured the Nancy Drew books in fourth-grade--I credit that with making me a life-long lover of reading and a scholar interested in solving difficult problems. I felt that if Nancy could do brave things, so could I. She empowered me long before I knew the term.

When my own daughter was in the third grade, I started giving her Nancy Drew books. There are several series now, but I decided to give her the original versions, which I read. I have spent quite a bit of time talking to her about the stereotypes that unfortunately appear in most of the volumes, but she has always been very attuned to stereotyping problems, so she could handle these issues. And she, too, has found the books empowering. So, in short, I think these books have played an important role in helping girls develop self-confidence, and can continue to do so with some parental help in contextualizing.

>From "Butterflies" anderskb@stolaf.edu 13 Nov 1996

I know that I am a bit late in my reply, but I have subscribed to the "better late than never" theory. I did want to reply quickly to Maria Elena Raymond's letter regarding Nancy Drew, in which she claimed the creator and majority of authors were male.

The Nancy Drew series was not written by one person and historically, at least, have been written primarily by women. The ND series is one of many produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Syndicate produced many of the most famous children's series books, including Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. There has actually been a bibliography of books written by the Syndicate, and that bibliography is at least a few hundred pages long.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was the idea of Edward Stratemeyer. In the early 1900s, he realized that he had some great ideas for books, but that he had so many ideas that he could not possibly write them all down. So he started hiring people to write stories for him based on a three to five page outline that he created.

If a person was to be dubbed "Carolyn Keene," the name that Stratemeyer chose for the author of the Nancy Drew stories, that person would clearly be Mildred Wirt Benson. She wrote approximately 23 of the first 27 Nancy Drew books. For !25 a book she signed away all rights to the character that she created, as well as pledged that she would never make known the fact that she was a "Carolyn Keene." The only reason this much information is known is due to legal proceedings that happened in the middle 1980s. She is one of the few people who wrote under the Carolyn Keene name that is known, primarily because of the secrecy which the syndicate demanded of all their writers.

In my research of the known authors of the ND series, only one or two of them have been males, although this does not include many of the most recent writers, as they are yet unknown. Anyway, thank you to all the people who have replied to my pleas for information, although I'm certainly not hoping this will be the end of it.

>From Genevieve G McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 13 Nov 1996

An aside re: "when male writers use female pseudonyms (Carol Keene," as this is the second time recently when I've seen this said about the authorship of the Nancy Drew series: Do you have a citation for this? The most recent work I've seen, Carolyn Stewart Dyer's Rediscovering Nancy Drew, rather exhaustively establishes that a woman---sorry, I don't have the book with me, so I don't have the identity and details--was the creator of the character and the author of many if not most books in the first series.

>From Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com 15 Nov 1996

I seem to be suffering lately from an inability to clearly state information...so here goes again:

Re:Nancy Drew series...The info about the Stratemeyer Syndicate as stated in the last post is generally correct. Edward Stratemeyer was the creator of the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift series...and title characters. He also created the pseudonym "Carolyn Keene". Yes, Mildred Benson filled in the details in most of the first Drew books published in the 30s...she was given outlines by Stratemeyer, then wrote the books. Benson was only one of many writers who signed away their rights to the Drew, Hardy and Swift books. If I implied or stated in my last post that only men wrote episodes of these series, that is certainly incorrect.

Re: Genevieve McBride's inquiry as to cites...when I sold all my Drew collections (1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s) I also passed along all the cite material to the people who purchased the books. You might want to contact Liz Holderman, 72163.2427@compuserve.com. She is a Drew scholar and could point you to specific info. Meanwhile, I will try to find some details for you and e-mail them to you.


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