What ‘Nancy Drew’ really means

Those of us who read Nancy Drew mysteries as children did not realize that Nancy had a “social context” and that she had become a cultural icon.

We just enjoyed the stories and wanted to know what Nancy would encounter next.

We probably missed what Olivia Rutigliano points out in her excellent and thought-provoking review of the cultural history of Nancy Drew on CrimeReads:

Key to understanding the plot of any Nancy Drew story (as well as many, many other texts in twentieth-century young-adult entertainment, from Harry Potter to Scooby Doo) is accepting that grown-ups cannot fix problems, only create them. Teenagers, old enough to understand the adult world while young enough to see through it, are motivated to take justice into their own hands, knowing that if they themselves do not, no one will. Source: A Cultural History of Nancy Drew | CrimeReads

Rutigliano, a Ph.D. candidate and fellow in the departments of English/comparative literature and theatre at Columbia University, takes us through the various iterations of Nancy Drew, particularly the television adaptations.

Still, she said, Nancy is in many ways the same essential character that we found on the pages of the books that Mildred Wirt Benson wrote back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Nancy Drew’s specific perfection was engineered in a 30s context, to, as the writer Deborah Siegel points out, combine Victorian conceptions of womanhood with modern ones. The purpose of the original Nancy was to reassure a (white) culture that a more active woman was no less feminine, but also to inspire young women to be as dynamic as they wanted to be.

The Nancy Drew fans among us will want to take a look at this interesting and provocative article.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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