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Nancy Drew and Her Sister Sleuths: Essays on the Fiction of Girl Detectives Paperback – August 19, 2008
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From School Library Journal
This collection of articles is an interesting and thought-provoking treatment of the cultural influences on the stories of girl detectives. The essays, most of them by university professors, include a brief history of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the creation of Nancy Drew, first published in 1930, and an introduction to the two major authors of the Nancy Drew mysteries, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt Benson. Both wrote under the name of Carolyn Keene and were involved in the corporate collaborative effort of the publisher, writers, and editors who produced books that were meant to entertain but were often questioned by librarians and teachers in terms of their literary value. Other selections examine the issues of race and xenophobia in the series and Nancy's lack of technological knowledge and ability in spite of her strength and intellect and the changing cultural influences on that dearth of knowledge. Other essays look at series about Linda Carlton, Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, and teen sleuths such as Hermione Granger. A great choice for all who are interested in the evolution of the girl detective in American youth literature.—Rebecca Sheridan, Easttown Library & Information Center, Berwyn, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"an excellent addition...recommended"--Choice; "interesting...thought-provoking...a great choice"--School Library Journal; "an absorbing read"--Feminist Collections; "valuable collection...most of the essays are highly readable and cover fresh ground"--Mystery Scene; "a welcome addition"--Dime Novel Round-Up; "interesting, useful, and sometimes entertaining volume"--Children's Literature Association Quarterly.
Top customer reviews
When I got the latest MacFarland catalogue I looked through it and this book, amongst several, stood out, and surprise, the public library, which a certain political party is trying to eliminate, managed to get this for me. Cool.
Instead of one long thesis on Nancy Drew and her fellow travelers on the road of mystery and investigation, we get an anthology of interrelated essays by various academics and other interested parties.
*****We start off with 'Introduction: The Mystery Of The Moll Dick' by Michael G. Cornelius, and Cornelius goes into the herstory of the term "dick" and "moll" in the field of crime, suspense and mystery. He also tackles the herstory of the girl detective and her lasting influence.
*****The next article is 'The Nancy Drew MYTHery Stories' and James D. Keeline looks at the creation of the Statemeyer Syndicate and its founder Edward Statemeyer and some of his early writings. Sadly, there is very little written about many of the writers from this period, so I found this pretty informative. Amongst other things, you will find that Nancy Drew was not only the last of a multitude of Statemeyer creations, but that her name was originally "Stella Strong". Drew's first mother was the author Mildred Benson, unlike later editors and publishers in the Statemeyer Syndicate, Edward DID NOT swear his authors to silence, but ENCOURAGED his authors to use their syndication work to get more work from other publishers. Keeline also gives us a detailed reason why so many of the syndicate books were later initially revised.
*****'Originator, Writer, Editor, Hack: Carolyn Keene and Changing Definition Of Authorship' by Linda K. Karell takes a good look at the myth of single authorship of the Nancy Drew books, and how these books were snobbishly treated by critics and librarians. This something that I can vouch for, as when I grew up in the sixties, you could not find a single Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book in the entire Detroit library system. They were considered just too lowbrow for their audiences.
*****'Alice Roy, Détective: Nancy Drew in French Translation' by Melanie E. Gregg is an interesting look at how a book can be subtly AND substantially changed when it is translated into another language for another culture. Some changes are strange, some odd, and some are understandable. Some of the changes would include Nancy Drew to Alice Roy, the elimination of all religious references, American slang, that "Alice Roy" went from being of Scottish ancestry to that of being Cajun, and that the Nancy Drew/Alice Roy was the most popular juvenile series in France from 1955-1996. There are quotes from the author to prove Gregg's point, but since most are in French, they may as well be in Swahili for all the good they did me.
*****'Race And Xenophobia In The Nancy Drew Novels: "What Kind Of Society . . ."' by Leona W. Fisher, and she looks at how various races, whether they be black, gypsy, or Polish are treated by the authors of the Drew novels. How the Drew novels are locked into an upper middle class bubble of whiteness and upper class patronization by examining the original texts and the latter revised texts. Fisher argues that some, but not all, can be chalked up to the novels being published in a certain time period. Now, while I agree with her about most of what she writes about, at times Fisher seems a little to sensitive about some of the racial stereotyping that she writes about/criticizes. Nancy Drew is a white girl, her friends are white, and she and they were created for a white audience during the thirties as a fantasy figure for white girls, and you just gotta get over this. If the writer puts in a minority as a supporting figure/villain, then the author is wrong, and if they don't they are wrong. This is a case of "you're danged if you do, and danged if you don't".
*****'"They Blinded Her With Science": Science Fiction And Technology In Nancy Drew' by Michael G. Cornelius show that despite being an independent wonderkin in all things, when it came to technology, she would a-typically become subservient to the males in the stories dealing with technology. This is seen through the examples given in the three science-fictional Drew novels. Get out those dictionaries as this is an essay that is demandingly academic in its writing.
*****After Cornelius' essay we start to look at some other major girl sleuth series. First up is 'Linda Carlton: Flying Sleuthing Flyer' by Fred Erisman. Linda Carlton starred in five books, 1931-1933 and they were written by Edith Lovell and Carleton was the first of the Nancy Drew influenced detective heroines to appear. Erisman gives a detailed look at how Carlton initially started off as a Nancy Drew Knock-off and how the series developed in its five book run. Erisman looks at how Carlton was an aviator first and foremost, how the series developed, and how the mysteries would become more central to the continuing narrative of the series as a whole. Carlton evidently was much more of a social crusader, more interested in more that just solving mysteries for the sake of solving mysteries. Carlton was also influenced by the explosion of women aviators that were appearing in the public forums during her time. The series was also notable for its use of currant and up-to-date aviation science. Erisman makes these books sound interesting enough that I would like to read one.
*****'The Girl Sleuths Of Melody Lane' by H. Alan Pickrelli looks at this unusual series that ran from 1932-1940 and which were written by Lilian Garris, wife of author Howard "Uncle Wiggly" Garris, and which were unique in that this novel's series was named after a place rather than a character. The lead character of this series firstly was Carol Duncan, although later in the series her sister Cecy took over the series. The series was short lived because of inconsistent storytelling and that the characters were rather unlikable, given to snobbery, and the mysteries were weak.
*****'Measuring Up To The Task: Cherry Ames As Nurse And Sleuth' by Anita G. Gorman and Leslie Robertson Mateer ran twenty-seven volumes from 1943-1963 and were written by Helen Wells, Julie Tatham and then by Carolyn Wells again. This was also a series with three distinct stages to it. The first part was under Helen Wells and concentrated on medical matters, a steady cast of characters, the war years, and Cherry Ames growth and education as a nurse. The second part of her career was written by Julie Tatham and she more moved the Ames character into mystery, romance, and the girl detective genre. Tatham also brought a more complex storytelling to the series with multiple plotlines per novel. The third stage was written by Helen Wells as she came back to the series she created, and moved Ames into a more cosmopolitan, mature, and world traveling character. Unlike the Drew character, all the original books are now back in print, and this is another series that I would like to sample someday.
*****Next up is a look at the Trixie Belden series in the essay 'Puzzles, Paternity, and Privilege: The Mysterious Functions(s) Of The Family In Trixie Belden' by Steven J. Zani. This series ran thirty-nine novels and while this series was created, and the first six books were written by Julie Campbell (Tatham) who also wrote some of the Cherry Ames novels. The rest of the novels were written by various diverse hands. What made this series a bit different was that while most of these girl detective series had at least one missing parent, the Belden series was very family centric, often trying to either create or preserve families. Also, it was a series that was fixated on wealth and class anxieties. Quoting Zani, this was an entire series "that is virtually obsessed with an agenda of creating and sustaining family units, through inheritance, adoption, donations or otherwise, to support and nurture the activities of children." (p 144) And that "Trixie Belden stories aren't about criminals, they are about families, promoting and sustaining the idea of them." (p 146) These quotes say it all, except that there are still conventions being held to celebrate Trixie. Campbell's Belden's are still in print.
*****In 'Not Nancy Drew, But Not Clueless: Embodying The Teen Girl Sleuth In The Twenty-first Century', Maria Harris looks at some of the more recent girl detectives including, Lulu Dark and television's "Veronica Mars" series. Harris looks at how the more modern teen attitudes are reflected in the more modern detectives, how these series will tend to be less innocent, more gritty, more violent, how the characters will be more influenced by how they look to the other sex, and how these characters are much more rounded then previous generations girl detectives. Harris also makes the point that some things never change as there is very little examination of race, and how today's teen girl-detective is still dependent on being rescued by the male of the species.
*****The Harry Potter books have detection-oriented sub-plots. So argues Glenna Andrade in her article 'Hermione Granger as Girl Sleuth'. Here Andrade looks at how Hermione is the investigative part of the Harry Potter trio, and how like latter teen sleuths is willing to bend the rules to solve here mystery. It may be Hermione's growth and independence that may help to explain Harry's series popularity with both boys and girls. Andrade describes Hermione growth from that of an intrepid, but insecure girl, to that of a more confident co-leader of the band. Andrade also answers those critics who think Hermione is also anti-feminist when Andrade states, with examples, that this is not the case.
*****We end on a rather unique note with 'The Teen Sleuth Manifesto' by Melissa Favara and Allison Schuette-Hoffman. Written at times in an almost faux stream-of-consciousness style, this is an appreciation and a fond tribute to the early, non-revised Drews. This essay is broken down into micro-chapters, each containing excerpts, quotes from the novels, from letters from the editors, personal remembrances, bits of autobiography, and pomes. Although written by two authors, this essay is told from the first person singular point-of-view, with no distinction as to which author contributed what. They compare texts and characters of selected titles of the early books, and the latter re-written versions. I especially liked pages 190-193 in which the character Bess is described and her eating habits are talked about, and when they ask the question "How did what's good for us become a measure of how good we are?" (p 192). All by itself, this is a brilliant little essay that deserves reprinting SOMEWHERE.
All-in-all, I liked this anthology, and many of the series sounded better than they probably were, but I know that I would like to read some of the texts described here. This is an anthology that is well worth reading, and while I was never bored, I'm not sure that this book is worth the high price that is being asked for it; neither is this book the definite look at either Nancy Drew or the series that were influenced by her. There are several other books out there about this subject, so maybe there cannot be a "definite" Drew text, but for those interested, this is a book well worth getting through your library. It's odd though, at one time you couldn't get these series in your libraries, now libraries might carry a book about these series. Times change.
Probably my favorite essay in this book is the comparison between the original books and the French translations, in which Nancy is "Alice Roy," she is of French heritage but hails from Missouri, her sense of honor and integrity is constantly played up, George Fayne is pushed to the background due to her boyish mannerisms (or given more feminine attributes!), and Bess Marvin is emphasized due to her femininity. It's an eye-opener in how the characters were tweaked to fit French sensibilities; I would have loved more essays about the different translations alone! One essay chronicles the history of the Stratemeyer syndicate and of the Nancy Drew books, another addresses the authorship question, a third touches on the race question in the original series, while the fourth illustrates how Nancy has remained naive about scientific subjects, perhaps still reflecting the attitude even today that girls do not make good scientists or researchers.
Of the remainder of the essays, the most interesting is an examination of the Lillian Garis "Melody Lane" series. Melody Lane was not a girl, but a place where the girl detective lived. These are odd "girl sleuth" books, with the girl being a reluctant sleuth in at least two of them, with contrary characters and sometimes inexplicable plots. The Hermione Granger piece is excellent; I would have preferred another essay about classic girl sleuths (Judy Bolton, perhaps, or the Dana Girls) rather than the piece about modern girl sleuths, which I found rather dull. All in all, however, a very satisfactory volume!